If Kevin Colbert has put in a more draining week during his time with the Steelers, this past week has to run a close second.
Already having cut a Super Bowl MVP and the franchise’s best 3-4 defensive end, Colbert again had to drop the hammer James Farrior, who for a decade had been a mainstay on one NFL’s top defenses of the decade.
Of the recent cuts, Farrior’s perhaps comes the closest to qualifying as a surprise, although it was quite clear that either he or counterpart Larry Foote would have to go.
Nonetheless, the decision to part ways with James Farrior marks a sea-change for the Steelers defense, as it was Farrior’s job to make the defensive calls in the huddle and perform the necessary adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
- Now that responsibility falls on someone else.
Farrior departs Pittsburgh with no obvious heir apparent. Foote will likely take his place in the starting line up, but Foote is not a long-term answer.
Stevenson Sylvester showed promise as a rookie in 2010, and while he continued to shine on special teams in 2011, he failed to impress in his limited appearances at linebacker in 2011.
Prior to Farrior’s departure, the Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac commented on Twitter that: If Farrior goes, start fitting Steelers uniform for Dont’a Hightower.
Top Steelers Free Agent Pick Up Ever?
The Steelers will never be known for the free agents it signs, but perhaps it should. When the Steelers do go out to sign a high profile free agent, they rarely miss.
- In the 1990’s Kevin Greene, John L. Williams, Ray Seals, and Wil Wolford were all free agents signings that delivered handsome dividends.
- In this decade, impact free agents pick ups came in the form of Ryan Clark, Flozell Adams, and Jeff Hartings.
Bill Parcells used his first pick with the Jets to select James Farrior in 1997, and played the James Madison University graduate at right outside linebacker for 5 years. Farrior played well enough in that role, but Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher saw something that Parcells and his successors missed.
- The Steelers signed James Farrior as a free agent in 2002 to replace Earl Holmes and neither side ever looked back.
Farrior immediately established himself as a leader of the defense, leading the team in tackles in ’03, ’04, ’06, ’07, ’08, and ’09. Farrior earned Pro Bowl honors in 2004 and 2008, and incredibly only missed two games to injury between 2002 and 2011.
During that entire time, whenever a tackle was being made, regardless of where it happened on the field, if Farrior wasn’t making it you were almost certain to see number 51 coming into focus before the whistle blew.
As important as those measurables were, Farrior’s contributions in the huddle and off the field were indispensable. Farrior was a team leader who not only set the tone on the field but also functioned as a player who enforced discipline in the locker room.
- Farrior also set an example with his dedication and ethic of responsibility.
Farrior was a second late on two key plays late on the Bengals winning drive at home vs. the Steelers. Farrior seemed to take those plays, as well as other mishaps as a personal affront.
Accordingly, he redoubled his off season training regime, reported to camp in the best shape of his life, and rebounded in 2010 with a 109 tackle, six sack, 5 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery performance.
James Farrior’s Last Stand
Longevity is one of the signs of greatness in the NFL and Farrior had his share. Even the great ones can cheat father time for just so long.
Age began to impact Farrior’s game in 2011, evident in his declining production and increasing difficulty in covering receivers downfield. Farrior’s age, his salary for 2012, and the Steelers salary cap woes prompted the team to decide to move on.
- Like his counter part and fellow captain Hines Ward, Farrior must make way for younger, and cheaper, players on the roster.
And just as is the case with Hines Ward, Mike Tomlin will not easily replace the leadership void created by James Farrior’s absence.