Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review took to Twitter Saturday afternoon to predict that 2012 will be the final season for outside linebacker James Harrison in Pittsburgh.
Kaboly tweeted specifically, “I do believe that this will be Harrison\’s last year with Steelers. Either aren\’t going to afford him anymore or his back will get best of him.”
The prediction of Kaboly is certainly believable, and I posted similar thoughts this offseason, and most recently in my post on the possibility of a flat cap again in 2013. As I pointed out in late June, Harrison will be 35 next season and my records indicate that he will count $13.035 million against the salary cap in 2013. That hit consist of a $6.570 base salary, a signing bonus proration amount of $3.465 million, and a a $3 million LTBE incentive (Likely To Be Earned), which could very well be a roster bonus.
Harrison, who had a discectomy last offseason, followed quickly by another clean up procedure shortly thereafter, missed time during the OTA sessions and mini camp this offseason with an apparent knee or leg problem of sorts. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau tried to calm fears of the health of his linebacker during the last week of OTA\’s by saying that Harrison was fine and only had “a little bit of a pulled muscle.” Harrison also evidently told LeBeau that this is the best he has felt in three years, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
Now I am by no means trying to run Harrison out of town and I suspect neither is Kaboly. The former Kent State product could very easily return to full health this season and have another MVP type season. Keep in mind that Harrison still registered 9 sacks last year in 11 regular season games after missing 4 games with a fractured orbital bone suffered against the Houston Texans back in week 4. The time off actually did Harrison good in regard to his back, and upon his return to the lineup he registered a 3 sack game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Regardless of the season that Harrison has in 2012 though, his age and cap hit in 2013 will be tough for the Steelers to ignore. In addition, the Steelers are hoping that linebacker Jason Worilds, their second round draft pick in 2010, is finally ready to be a full-time starter, in what will be the final year of his rookie contract in 2013. When you add up all of the signs above, you certainly can see why Kaboly and I have come to the conclusions that we have with Harrison.
Who knows, Harrison might just want to walk away from the game after the 2012 season while he can still walk, as back problems don\’t improve.
Cap wise, the Steelers stand to save $8.105 million against the 2013 cap by releasing Harrison prior to having to pay him the roster bonus, if indeed that is what the LTBE is. It is certainly a harsh realization to face for sure, but it is a decision that the Steelers have had to make several times over the years with veteran linebackers. For now, just hope and pray that Harrison can stay healthy this upcoming season and terrorize quarterbacks like he has so many times over the years.