The Pittsburgh Steelers plan at outside linebacker going into the 2015 off season was remarkably similar to their plan on defensive line for the 2014 off season:
- Allow unrestricted free agents to test the market
- Do bargain hunting for veteran free agents as needed
- Address the position via the draft and existing youth
- Resign an stalwart veteran as a contingency measure
A year ago on defensive line the Steelers let Ziggy Hood and Al Woods hit the market, and declined to overpay for either of their services (assuming their was ever entertained bringing Ziggy Hood back). When both Hood and Al Woods found greener pastures, they signed Cam Thomas. They also drafted Stephon Tuitt on second round and Daniel McCullers in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
This year at outside linebacker the Steelers were content to let Jason Worilds test the market, but they did keep Arthur Moats off the open market. Presumably, the Steelers at least looked and perhaps talked to some free agent outside linebackers, although none visited the South Side. It is no secret the Steelers are looking to outside linebacker in the 2015 NFL Draft.
The case for the Steelers resigning James Harrison was strong. Like Keisel, Harrison indicated he still wanted to play. Here things turned tricky. Brett Keisel didn’t have a suitor in waiting outside of Pittsburgh. Bruce Arians waited until deep into August even to call Kesiel. The Steelers saw the move, and Keisel never made it to Pittsburgh West.
- But Dick LeBeau is not Bruce Arians
LeBeau made no secret for of his love for his players, and James Harrison was almost moved to tears when asked about LeBeau.
So James Harrison wanted to play, the only question was were, in Pittsburgh on in Tennessee. The Steelers were interested in bringing Harrison back, but wanted to wait until August. And as of Friday, the conventional wisdom was that Harrison would get the Keisel treatment from the Steelers.
Silverback Forces Steelers Hand
Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin do not make personnel decisions scared. But they do make smart ones. Yesterday James Harrison (again) made it known that he would only play for the Steelers or for the Titans. What’s more, he let it be known that his kids were divided as to where he should go.
It can be no coincidence that his Instagram post saw the Steelers resign James Harrison Harrison in less than 48 hours.
Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell concurs:
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) March 22, 2015
Outside of that nothing else has changed. The Steelers will still give Howard Jones, Jordan Zumwalt and Shawn Lemon a chance to earn roster spots. They will seek a young outside linebacker early in the 2015 NFL Draft. But they have also ensured that James Harrison will be on their depth chart.
The Steelers are simply making a proactive personnel move, very similar to the one they made when Green Bay worked out Steve McLendon when McLendon was a restricted free agent in 2013. In doing so, they give themselves important breathing space in the 2015 NFL Draft.
There’s a big difference between entering the NFL Draft wanting to get a top cornerback and a top outside linebacker early on and needing to take both a corner and an outside linebacker early on.
Realism Must Accompany Harrison’s Return to Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers resigned James Harrison for all the right reasons. He proved that he still has something left in the tank, he still has the desire to play, and he can serve as an excellent role model in the locker room.
- But neither the Silverback of 2008 nor Deebo of 2010 will is returning to Pittsburgh.
Indeed, Harrison’s own agent has said as much, declaring that Harrison will be in a “supporting role”
Breaking: Bill Parise, agent for James Harrison, tells @bctimes that linebacker is being brought back in "a supporting role." …
— Chris Bradford (@PghBradford) March 22, 2015
And that’s fitting. James Harrison raised hell vs. the Baltimore Ravens at midseason, but was held in check in the Steelers playoff loss to Baltimore. To mix sports metaphors, Harrison certainly won’t be Willie Mays final stint with the Mets, but will rather likely be more like Michael Jordan’s final seasons with the Washington Wizards – as a player who can still perform at a high level, but only sporadically.
And by itself, that should be enough to help the Steelers in 2015.