The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Will James Harrison still be a starting outside linebacker for the Steelers at the end of the 2018 season?
The Steelers yesterday worked out a new two-year contract for veteran outside linebacker James Harrison that ties him to the team through the 2018 season. He completed the 2016 season as a full-time starter at right outside linebacker, which is something that had not been the case since 2012.
It seems reasonable in light of that to pose the question of whether or not he will continue to play in that capacity throughout the life of that contract. Should it prove to be a true statement, it will be an inevitable combination of good news and bad news: good that Harrison is still performing at a high level, but bad that his heir is likely not.
It would be a fair argument to make that Harrison was the team’s best player on defense, or at least the most consistent, even though his playing time through the majority of the season was spotty before Jarvis Jones was demoted and then benched. He proved at the age of 38 that he can still play starter-quality defense. It would seem reasonable that he could also do it at 39.
Projecting two years into the future at that age, at that position, however, is a little bit more complicated. Harrison is a phenom when it comes to putting in the work to maintain his body, and I certainly don’t think that his passion for the game can be fairly questioned, but there is a certain physical breaking point for everybody when they simply can no longer do things at the performance level that they require.
Harrison would not be the first player to continue to play effectively as a pass rusher and edge defender into his 40s, although that is an incredibly small list. Harrison is also an incredibly rare sort of player, however, and the coaching staff can never seem to keep him off the field as much as they plan to.