The 2014 season saw the Pittsburgh Steelers on the rise, finishing with an 11-5 record and a division title following two straight seasons of missing the playoffs with 8-8 records. They finished off the regular season with four straight victories, but suffered a disappointing Wildcard round loss against the Ravens without their star running back.
Nobody is saying that the Steelers, however, are a finished product. Not even the Super Bowl champion is a finished product after a season concludes, because every team undergoes a series of changes throughout the offseason via free agency, retirement, and the draft, in addition to a myriad of other factors.
Pittsburgh is certainly no different, of course, and they are expected to see a number of new faces in the starting lineup for the third straight season. Some priorities make themselves available to you, rather than you being forced to seek them, as was the case when James Harrison announced via social media last night that he intends to play another season.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Mark Kaboly also Tweeted last night that Harrison’s agent indicated to him that his client “wants to be with the Steelers”, but as Kaboly pointed out, it’s more in the team’s hands than his own.
The front office and coaching staff must determine whether or not it’s in the team’s best interests, both in the short-term and the long-term, to bring Harrison back for a third time, though it’s worth keeping in mind that his original release a couple years back was due to his refusal to accept a pay cut.
A year ago, the Steelers were determined to move on from Harrison, despite his vaguely pleading his case via social media before announcing his retirement in September. It was Jarvis Jones’ time, and bringing Harrison back would only interfere with that.
Of course, it was instead a significant wrist injury that interfered with Jones’ development early in the 2014 season, after he’s recorded his second sack and forced his first fumble of the season. Many feel that it would take another freak event such as that to get Harrison back in Pittsburgh.
Perhaps the most reasonable alternative for Harrison would be if he were willing to play on the strong side in the event that the Steelers failed to re-sign Jason Worilds in free agency, because they will not want to impede Jones’ progress. His development is essential to the future success of the defense, and he can’t afford to take a back seat again.
Last year’s circumstances are last year’s circumstances, and those circumstances were serendipitous in facilitating the unlikely reunion with Harrison. While he showed that he could still play at a high level, the team can’t afford to bring him back to his old spot.
I think a return would only be in the cards if he were willing to accept a position change or a significantly reduced role. No doubt the Steelers will hope that an answer could wait until after the draft at the least, so that they could take stock of their situation at outside linebacker. It’s worth keeping in mind that Dick LeBeau is in Tennessee now, of course.