While the Pittsburgh Steelers did suffer an early-decade slide a few years back with two non-winning seasons and no playoff appearances in the interim, the “old and slow” roster proved to have more life in it than many seemed willing to believe. Change was needed, of course, but the front office understood that the right veteran in the right places could remain a tremendous asset.
The Steelers are currently getting tremendous value from a couple of their old dogs, both as it pertains to their on-field performance and their off-field leadership, and are getting all of that for more or less a bargain as far as the salary cap is concerned.
Both outside linebacker James Harrison and running back DeAngelo Williams, the latter of whom only joined the Nation last season when he came to Pittsburgh on a two-year free agent contract as a soon-to-be 32-year-old running back, have been integral to the team last season, and figure to resume that status this year.
Harrison, 38, is currently counting $1.5 million against the salary cap, and I think it would suffice to say that that is quite worth it considering their alternatives. He played the most snaps of all outside linebackers on the roster, and also led the group in tackles and sacks, in addition to producing two forced fumbles and an interception. In the postseason, he added another 11 tackles and two sacks in two games.
He was also very stout in the run game, something that had long been his calling card while he was regarded for several years as the best in the league at what he does, and when it comes to run defense, he figures to still be among the best.
That is why Pro Football Focus believes Harrison’s current contract, in its final deal, represents the best value among edge defenders, given how little he counts against the team’s cap. They note that there are 36 outside linebackers with higher cap hits this year. Crediting him with 45 pressures on 276 pass rush attempts and the fifth-best pass rushing productivity in the league, they see him as among the best at this position still.
And it would be hard to say otherwise of Williams as well, who tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with 11 despite the fact that he only started 11 games, and rushed for over 900 yards on 200 attempts.
PFF also believes that Williams represents among the best value at the running back position currently in the league, reflecting on his $2.565 million cap hit as part of the second of a two-year deal. It goes without saying that the offense could have taken a nose dive without him last year.
Williams finished fifth in their overall grading at the position last year in spite of the fact that he was sparsely used for a large portion of the season. The fact that the Steelers’ offense helped produce in him a career year as a receiver certainly did not hurt in that regard.