James Harrison’s Contract A Bargain Based On Production

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been quite fortunate over the course of the past three seasons that veteran outside linebacker James Harrison has proven to be as durable as he has been into his late 30s while maintaining a high level of play.

The team recently chose to try to push their luck with Harrison for two more years after inking the former Defensive Player of the Year to a new contract that will carry him through his age-40 season, but when they do, they will be doing so at a relative bargain.

The Steelers re-signed Harrison to a two-year contract prior to the 2015 season for a value of $2.75 million a year after he came in and posted five and a half sacks and 45 tackles in 11 games, logging under 450 snaps.

He added another 10 sacks in about 1200 snaps over the span of the past two seasons, also adding 93 tackles, five passes defensed, two interceptions, and four forced fumbles—not to mention another four and a half sacks and a forced fumble in five postseason games.

For his performance he was rewarded with another two-year deal and a raise of less than half a million per year, signing a contract worth $3.5 million over the span of the contract. Many who have commented on the deal have spoken about the value of the deal, so I think it would be wise to put that in a bit of perspective.

So here is some perspective. On March 9, Arthur Moats signed a three-year contract with the Steelers paying him $7.5 million, which works out to an average annual salary of $2.5 million, factoring in a signing bonus of nearly $2 million. Moats will make a base salary of $2.2.5 million in 2017 after earning $2.5 million as a base in 2016.

In 2016, the Steelers gave Vince Williams a two-year extension worth $5.5 million, averaging $2.75 million per season, with $1.5 million guaranteed. He has a base salary of $2 million in 2017 and in 2018. These are two backup linebackers who are going to make more money than Harrison.

That is not to knock the contracts that Moats and Williams were given, or to criticize the contract that Harrison has gotten. Production is only one factor in considering contracts, after all, though I think it’s more than fair to say that his production value is greater than his anticipated compensation.

Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus commented on the contract in saying that Harrison posted the fifth-highest pass-rush-to-pressure ratio of once every 6.04 rushes over the span of the past three seasons. I don’t think that anybody needs to make a case for his run defense.

But he is also 38 years old, going on 39. He wants to play for the Steelers, and he wants to stay close to home. He is on the precipice of the end of his career, and the objective is the work down his snap count in preparation for moving on from him. If he wanted to, Harrison could no doubt have gotten better value for his services—perhaps significantly. But there was so much more on offer staying put.

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