Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
The Steelers and one of the best linebackers the franchise has ever had are at an impasse. It doesn't seem his release is a question as much as it's a certainty now.
Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison knows his value. Like other Steelers veterans before him in the twilight of their careers, he's saying (via his agent Bill Parise as reported by John Harris of the Tribune-Review) he's amenable to restructure his deal, but he won't take less money from Pittsburgh than his contract says he's supposed to make this year.
Considering a restructure of Harrison's deal is likely the last thing the Steelers will want to do, the impasse the two sides are facing is essentially a prelude to his release.
Harrison is owed $6.5 million this upcoming season, and while that may be his black-and-white value on the open market, guys with contracts are not treated the same way as the guys without them. Factoring in the team's need to get younger on the defensive side of the ball, and their need to get former second round pick Jason Worilds on the field in a full-time role to see whether he's a long-term member of this team only weighs the scales against Harrison's return in 2013.
It's a decision that isn't made solely on talent, but that's the angle Harrison and Parise are - and should - be playing. There are plenty of teams running a 3-4 defense in need of help - New Orleans and Green Bay are two very logical future destinations.
The Packers have very little semblance of run support, and adding that anchor against the run will only help them hide Clay Matthews lack of run stopping ability. New Orleans just hired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan with the expectation of moving a defense into a new 3-4 alignment without 3-4 outside linebackers.
Harrison knows his skills will be pursued on the open market, and while he'd like to stay in Pittsburgh, if the Steelers can't live up to the contract both sides signed, he'll go elsewhere.
The Steelers can't build for the future by pushing cap money for a player who's 35 and has missed a good chunk of the last two years with injury, even if he showed he still can play at a high level when healthy.
It's an unfortunate reality, but the only way it seems Harrison will be with the Steelers in 2013 is if he accepts a deal like nose tackle Casey Hampton signed last year, which essentially cut his salary and guaranteed him one more season.
Parise's words don't indicate Harrison is willing to accept that deal.