James Harrison retired in the autumn of 2013. He has already more or less announced that he fully intends to return to play during the 2017 season. Funny how things work out sometimes.
Harrison was still making awfully good money leading into the 2012 season when he butted heads so to speak with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ front office. The team was in a salary cap crunch at the time and were looking for Harrison to take a pay cut. He chose not to take it knowing full well that the result would be his release. He also likely knew that he would not be able to find a comparable contract on the open market and that he was choosing principle and dignity over more money.
But the result was his signing of a two-year deal to play with the Bengals on a considerably lower salary than he would have made had he chosen to take the pay cut. He only saw the first of those two seasons in a campaign during which he largely looked out of place in a 4-3, and by the end of the preseason he seemed at peace with his decision to retire at the age of 35.
He has four more seasons logged under his belt since his retirement, and his social media accounts strongly, strongly indicate that he is not done yet. And why should he be? 2016 was his best season in half a decade, and he finally regained a full-time starting role.
Harrison is as dedicated as ever to doing everything that he can to take care of his body. You are probably not going to find another player in the league who goes through as much on a daily basis to prepare himself physically for the rigors of an NFL season as an outside linebacker.
He posted 53 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception during the regular season, and it must be kept in mind that he was the second man in the rotation during the first nine games of the season. He assumed the starting position for the final seven games of the regular season, excluding the finale, during which he rested. He was only the full-time every-down starter for his final three games.
21 of his 53 tackles on the season came in those final three games. He then continued his strong play in the postseason. He recorded 20 tackles and two and a half sacks with a forced fumble during the Steelers’ three playoff games, during which you could quite readily argue that he was their best defender on the field.
But that doesn’t necessarily predict his level of performance, nor his role, for the 2017 season. And we are also at least partially assuming that his return for a 15th season will indeed be with the Steelers. I wouldn’t expect him to play for anybody else given his family situation, but people do change their minds. Just ask the man who retired four seasons ago.