If the word of an agent is any indication, and such words can sometimes be dicey, the Steelers have already telegraphed their most important priority of the 2009 off season: Resigning James Harrison.
ESPN’s James Walker is reporting that:
The Steelers are actively negotiating a pay raise and contract extension, according to Harrison’s agent, Bill Parise, with the sides having discussions as often as twice a day.
Parise went out of his way to laud Steelers management, and indicated that he thought Steelers would come to terms with Harrison this off season.
Unlike Trai Essex, Max Starks, Nate Washington, Bryant McFadden, Marvel Smith, and Chris Kemoeatu, James Harrison is not slated to become an unrestricted free agent on February 27th.
Nonetheless, since the advent of free agency the Pittsburgh Steelers modus operandi has been to target key players that they need to win and resign them before they become free agents. There is every reason why the Steelers should make every effort to resign their starting right outside linebacker before he reaches the open market. (Even if his agent’s claim to be talking to the Steelers twice a day does sound somewhat over exaggerated.)
In 2007, his first season as a starter, James Harrison made a splash, stealing the show on the Steelers 75th Anniversary game with 3.5 sacks, an interception, and two forced fumbles. But that was just the warm up, as Harrison redefined the concept of breakout season in 2008, when he led the Steelers with 16 sacks and won NFL Defensive player of the year honors.
For an encore, Harrison played a key role in pressuring Joe Flacco into throwing the AFC Championship clinching interception to Troy Polamalu and, in Super Bowl XLIII, he authored a game-changing 100 yard interception return for a touchdown as Arizona was threatening to score with 18 seconds remaining in the first half.
James Harrison is 30 years old, an age at which many if not most players begin to see their productivity decline, but preparation, determination and innate ability are as much factors in Harrison’s success as his athleticism.