After Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison came out of retirement to sign with the team during the 2013 season, he was re-signed early in the following offseason to a two-year contract, though he expressed all along that he likely would not play another season.
As the year wore on, he seemed to warm more and more to the idea of seeing that contract through, and this offseason has expressed his desire to return, but under the condition that he is satisfied with where he is physically in order to endure the rigors of another NFL season.
As such, his status for the 2016 season hangs somewhat precariously in the balance as he undergoes his offseason regimen that will help him reach the conclusions necessary to make a decision. But one person who is optimistic about the likelihood of his playing for Pittsburgh this year is team general manager Kevin Colbert, who reiterated his belief yesterday.
Asked by reporters about Harrison’s status, he said that he thinks he’ll be back, noting in so many words that his position on that matter had not changed since the last time that he commented on the veteran former All-Pro’s status with the team.
He also reiterated his and the Steelers’ desire to have him return, saying that “there’s no reason in our minds that we wouldn’t want him back”. At 37 years old, Harrison logged the most snaps among the outside linebacker group, and also led the group with five sacks after posting 5.5 sacks the year prior, all in rotational work.
He also recorded 40 tackles, intercepted a pass, and produced two fumbles, demonstrating that his position on the team was by no means based on charity, nor was it predicated on his leadership ability, but rather rested primarily upon what he can still deliver on the field.
Offseason comments last year suggested a reduced role for the veteran that never materialized, and Colbert’s remarks yesterday seem to reflect a similar sentiment, while noting that “he wants to feel and know that he’ll be a contributor”.
He told reporters that the Steelers would not work him out, and that he would “participate very little in OTAs”, adding that the true test will not come until the first game of the regular season. Harrison’s workload may indeed be curtailed leading up to then, but as demonstrated last year, he will be difficult to take off the field once he is on.
The former 2008 Defensive Player of the Year remarked a few weeks ago that he would need this time to evaluate where he is, so we should be nearing closer to an answer as we creep toward the calendar turning to March.
Whether or not he does remain likely will not have a bearing on either the draft or the status of Jarvis Jones’ fifth-year option due to be exercised after the draft, given that Harrison is expected to retire after this season regardless. But if Colbert’s hunch is right, he should have a significant bearing on the Steelers’ 2016 plans.