The Pittsburgh Steelers find that their 2016 season ended a bit prematurely, and are undergoing the exit meeting process a couple weeks sooner than they would have liked. Never the less, what must be done must be done, and we are now at the time of the year where we close the book on one season and look ahead to the next.
While we might not know all the details about what goes on between Head Coach Mike Tomlin and his players during these exit meetings, we do know how we would conduct those meetings if they were let up to us. So here are the Depot’s exit meetings for the Steelers’ roster following the 2016 season.
Player: James Harrison
Position: Outside Linebacker
Experience: 13 Years
I never suspected if you would have asked me back in 2013 that four years later I would still be writing about James Harrison being arguably the Steelers’ most effective defensive player on the field, but here we are in 2017 talking about just that. And the former Defensive Player of the Year has already made it known that he plans to return for a 14th season, something that Pittsburgh still needs, because they don’t yet have an alternative.
They were still holding out hope that Jarvis Jones would be the alternative, until Harrison became the alternative to him. Jones began the season at the starter and took the lion’s share of the snaps, but that started to change after the bye week.
Over the course of the next couple of games, Jones lost his position at the top of the pecking order, and soon after that he was virtually benched entirely. He did start the meaningless season finale and came off the bench some during the playoffs, but he was effectively benched, with Harrison re-emerging for the first time since 2012 as an every-down player.
On the season, the former undrafted free agent recorded 53 tackles in 15 games with seven starts, adding five sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception. He recorded a sack in each of his first two postseason games—two and a half sacks in total, to be exact—including another forced fumble in the red zone.
I would say as a devil’s advocate that there were no doubt stretches during the season where Harrison appeared to be more effective than others, and he seemed to fade toward the end of the regular season, and then the postseason. Perhaps the accumulation of snaps started to get to him. He was dealing with some injuries, perhaps from wear and tear, at the end of the year.
I do believe the hope is that the Steelers will be able to find a pass-rusher in this draft class who can serve an apprenticeship under Harrison in 2017 with an eye toward taking over the spot in 2018—or perhaps even 2019—full-time. But Harrison in 2017 still feels to me like a must. He remains one of the best run-defenders at his position in the league.