Steelers Decision Not to Take Back James Harrison Shows Team in Transition

Sometimes a clean break is best.

At least that’s what the Pittsburgh Steelers are gambling when it comes to James Harrison.

Just one month ago the Steelers were negotiating James Harrison’s future with the franchise. The Steelers wanted James to take less. James not so much.

Word was the Steelers offered him a 30% reduction in salary with the chance to earn that back via incentives.

  • James Harrison and his agent Bill Praise said, “Thanks but no thanks.” 

The Steelers granted Harrison his release, and one of the greatest linebackers in franchise history went off in search of greener pastures.

  • Except for the fact that James Harrison is learning that the grass is not always greener on the other side. 

The initial wave of free agency has come and gone, and James Harrison remains unemployed.

The Baltimore Ravens figured to give him a good look but, unfortunately for James, Ozzie Newsome decided to invest his salary cap dollars in Elvis Dumervil. Peter King of Sports Illustrated has gone as far as to say that there is no colder name in free agency than James Harrison.

After Baltimore made their choice, Harrison made it known he would not be adverse to setting aside his pride and rejoining Pittsburgh.

The problem is, reports Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette, the Steelers are no longer interested.

Door on The South Side Only Revolves so Much

As Steel Curtain Rising has noted before, Kevin Colbert’s attitude towards departed free agents differs sharply from his predecessor Tom Donahoe. The later took a parochial view, Colbert in contrast doesn’t hesitate to puts the prodigal son parable into practice with former free agents. Just ask William Gay and Matt Spaeth.

  • Yet Colbert takes or at least wants to take a different take with veterans whom the Steelers have waived

A year ago when questions about whether recently released veterans Hines Ward, Aaron Smith or James Farrior might be called back in an emergency Colbert said this:

When we terminated those players [Ward, Smith, and Farrior], it was a termination. We felt that was it, their time as a Steeler was over. It was time for everybody to move forward and that’s where we left it. You never say never but they also know we all understand that was it.

Now that is a principle.

And sometimes circumstances force the Steelers to make policy exceptions to that principle. The most clear cut exception is the Steelers brass declaring their commitment to youth on offensive line after Willie Colon’s 2011 injury only to go out and resign Max Starks after the debacle in Houston.

  • But circumstances have already given the Steelers their chance to make an exception to principle with James Harrison and they have declined to do so.

Time will tell whether their decision was the right one, but one thing is certain…

The Steelers Are a Team in Transition

Kevin Colbert can protest all he wants, but now that Pittsburgh has had the chance to get James Harrison back at a bargain basement salary and said no, the Steelers are officially a team in transition.

No one make a more strident objection to the Steelers decision to cut James Harrison than the Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook, who went so far as to say:

And, contrary to much speculation, the Steelers are built to win now and will be for as long as Ben Roethlisberger is the quarterback. They aren’t rebuilding. They don’t need to get younger. They need Harrison.

While Cook’s overall conclusion may be questionable – that the Steelers needed to keep Harrison at all costs – his essential point is right. James Harrison is a player that helps you win Super Bowls.

Jason Worilds might be one of those players, but he’s far from proven it. The Steelers have committed themselves to finding out.

  • There is no shame to this. 

The Steelers went through a similar process with Franco Harris and Walter Abercrombie in the early ‘80’s, and Kevin Greene and Jason Gildon in the mid ‘90s.

But the simple fact is that if you opt for Jason Worilds over James Harrison, you’re a team in transition.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

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