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Playing Time Could Be The Tiebreaker In James Harrison’s Decision

As you’ve no doubt seen by now, longtime Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison posted a video and message on Instagram yesterday pertaining to his future, suggesting that he must make the decision between returning to Pittsburgh or following Dick LeBeau to play for the Tennessee Titans.

In his short Instagram video, he asks his two sons which he should play for. Predictably, the answers conflict, with one favoring playing for LeBeau, for whom Harrison’s affection is well known, and the other favoring remaining in the area, where his family resides.

The implication here is, of course, that the choice between the two teams is Harrison’s to make, which suggests that he has received at least some kind of offer from both organizations, despite the fact that there has been nothing even remotely official on that front, or even a report from an uncredited source.

Under the assumption, then, that both the Titans and Steelers have expressed recent interest in bringing in Harrison, prompting him to make this post, the veteran pass rusher pits the decision as choosing between playing for LeBeau, who “made [his] career what it is”, and the “amount of love for Steelers Nation & the Steelers organization”.

More pragmatic a decision, however, will likely come down to what he is expecting to get out of himself in terms of playing time and performance. Given that 2015 should in all likelihood be his final season as a professional football player, the opportunity for playing time should probably be a fairly substantial factor in the decision-making process.

The Titans, of course, recently re-signed Derrick Morgan, while at the same time adding Brian Orakpo via free agency. These two figure to make up LeBeau’s starting outside linebacker tandem regardless of whether or not Harrison is present on the roster.

In Pittsburgh, the Steelers’ leading pass rusher over the last two seasons, Jason Worilds, retired, and their first-round draft pick at the position, Jarvis Jones, has been unable to cement his spot in the starting lineup. Harrison, in fact, started over him by the end of the season at right outside linebacker.

Opposite Jones is penciled in Arthur Moats, who signed a three-year contract for a value that doesn’t clearly make him a reserve or a starter. It almost seems as though Moats would be a last resort option to start if they can’t find a contingency plan.

I find it difficult to imagine that Harrison would not be in the starting lineup in a group that includes Jones, Moats, and himself, based on his level of play that he showed by the time he was up to full speed last season.

Of course, it’s true that playing time is not the only factor to take into account here. As Harrison wrote, “nothing can compare” to what LeBeau has meant to his career, and just talking about him while he was in Cincinnati in 2013 brought tears to his eyes.

But he also has a camaraderie with the young linebacker group that the Steelers have in place right now, as evidenced by a group of four of them traveling out to Arizona to work out with him. And staying close to his family is as important a factor as any.

It will be a tough and interesting decision for Harrison to make, which appears to be coming, perhaps, sooner than many have anticipated. But I can’t help but wonder if the opportunity for playing time might end up being the tiebreaker.

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