Steelers Salary Cap: James Harrison non-committal on 2013 return to Steelers

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When asked about playing a tenth season, Roger Goodell's favorite Steeler left plenty of room for doubt, by barely saying anything at all.

"I’ll get things together as far as what I’m doing for next year (after Sunday’s game)."

These words were spoken by James Harrison in response to the media on Friday, when asked about his role in the 2013 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

At face value, he said nothing. He sounded like a player that was focused on his upcoming game, more than he was off-seasons and salary caps. However, it is his choice of words that leaves the door wide open for speculation outside literal definition.

Other players have already spoken out about their situations with the Steelers regarding 2013. Max Starks and Casey Hampton both mentioned their desire to play, but that they may not play here. They will both be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, and they both acknowledged the Steelers salary cap situation. They realize that the Steelers may move on to younger players. Young men like Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert, and Alameda Ta'amu were drafted recently to, hopefully, eventually take over starting spots. The Steelers will want to test their investments sooner, rather than later, before the time will come to make decisions on their futures.

Even Larry Foote recognizes the fact that the Steelers may not offer him another contract past 2012. His age puts him on the downhill slope of his career. Despite his wisdom and knowledge, the Steelers already have Sean Spence and Stevenson Sylvester under contract for 2013, and they may even draft another future starter this season. Each of these veterans have expressed a desire to stay in Black and Gold, yet each have admitted that the final choice was not up to them. It was up to the team.

Harrison, on the other hand, made no such concession.

"I’ll get things together as far as what I’m doing for next year (after Sunday’s game)."

Harrison has two more years left on his contract. He is slated for salaries of $6.57 million in 2013, and $7.575 million in 2014. Harrison's final numbers for 2012 don't represent a player that would normally make that kind of coin. Presuming he starts as expected against the Cleveland Browns in week 17, he will have played 13 games this season - 2 more than he played in 2011. At the moment he is tied with last year's tackle total of 59, with 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. By far, 2012 was the worst season for Harrison, since becoming a full-time starter in 2007.

Understandably so, considering a man whose game is predicated on torque and angles, is trying to do so on forfeiting knees. Harrison improved his play each week while recovering and coping. The Harrison that forced a fumble from DeMarco Murray in week 15 was much closer to the "old" James Harrison, than the old James Harrison that started the season.

Harrison's omission of the Steelers future financial situation would lead one to believe that he's not really concerned about whether or not the Steelers want him around. It sounds like he's only concerned about whether or not he wants him around. He has not missed much practice time. He has not missed much game time. He has not complained openly about swelling in his knees, or chronic agonizing pain. Maybe he's just not talking about it.

Harrison will be 35 years old in May of 2013. There was never really a chance that he would play past the end of his contract, and now many wonder if he should even play the rest of it. While the Steelers could cut him at the end of the season and wipe his salaries off the ledger, they still have to deal with bonus money they gave him in the past, that has been prorated to the remaining seasons on his contract. 3,465,000 on 2013. 1,465,000 on 2014.

If the Steelers release him immediately, that is $4.93 million dollars in dead money that applies to 2013's salary cap. The Steelers would save $5.105 million against what would have been Harrison's original cap hit for 2013, and all of his 2014 salary would be off the books. They would also be out a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

If they wait until June 1st to part ways with him, they can split his dead money over 2013 and 2014. Each year would take a penalty of $2.465 million. This would save $7.57 million against his 2013 cap hit, and $6.575 million against 2014's. The way it stands right now with prorated bonuses added to annual salaries, his cap hit for 2013 is going to be $10.035 million, and $9.04 million in 2014. When the salary cap is estimated to be no more than $121 million, those hits would represent just slightly less than a tenth of the total money allotted to pay 53 men.

Yet, Harrison's comments disavow all of that. Perhaps too much is being read into words said on a practice day interview. Perhaps having some time off after the season allowing him to rest those knees, he will find the willingness to go another round. Perhaps he already wants to play, but doesn't want to allow assumption that he would play elsewhere like the others. Perhaps he is coming to grips with the idea that his body may not be able to do it anymore.

I guess we will have to heed his words, and wait until the season is actually over. Maybe we'll have an answer sooner than we think. If he chooses to retire, he will be remembered among the all time great linebacking lineage of the Pittsburgh Steelers. If he chooses to play and the Steelers continue to have him, he will play with a hunger to win one more ring. When he plays on Sunday, he will play like its his last game ever, as he's done for every game of his 9 year career.

"I’ll get things together as far as what I’m doing for next year (after Sunday’s game)."

He never really was one for making statements with his mouth anyways. The only statements he ever intends to make, will be to his favorite audience of all on Sunday -- another Cleveland quarterback.

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