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Steelers fans shouldn’t lose any sleep over James Harrison signing with the Patriots

James Harrison wasn't going to help the Steelers in 2017, and I certainly won't lose any sleep over him signing with the Patriots.

AFC Championship - Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

I'm calling it now, the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers are the worst 12-3 team in NFL history.


It just seems that way, what with the constant griping and moaning after each and every win.

I guess you can blame the Steelers for that, given their propensity for drama and airing their dirty laundry in the media—both professional and social.

The latest bit of drama surrounding the Steelers has to do with them releasing beloved, legendary and iconic outside linebacker, James Harrison, over the weekend.

I was at my annual family Christmas dinner at a Seseme Inn on McKnight Road when an app on my brother's phone alerted him to Harrison's release; I must admit, when I heard this news, I said—and this is me being totally honest—"I can see that."

After all, Harrison had barely played over the first 14 weeks—just 40 snaps, to be exact.

Besides, with rookie first round pick T.J. Watt doing his thing better than anyone could have envisioned when he was selected way back in April, someone like Harrison, a 39-year old who, since 2013, had already been cut twice, announced his retirement once, and then quickly ended his retirement to re-join the Steelers in early-2014, just seemed unnecessary.

In other words, he was an aging veteran that had clearly seen his best days, even if his post-retirement production with Pittsburgh was better than expected—and often much-needed.

But that "much-needed" part? That was mainly because Jarvis Jones, the 2013 first round pick out of Georgia who was brought in to replace the then recently released Harrison and be the next great outside linebacker to don the black and gold, spent his four seasons in Pittsburgh being anything but.

Back to Watt.

When you spend an entire spring scouting and analyzing potential first-round picks, you can only dream of the kind of rookie year Watt has had thus far.

Therefore, when those preseason rumors of Harrison becoming a bigger presence by mid-season—and providing the defense with a spark like he did in 2016—didn't come to fruition, it made sense.

If it ain't broke, why bother trying to fix it?

That's especially the case when someone like Watt, 23, is not only nearly two-decades younger and clearly a much-better athlete, but is being asked to do things from the outside linebacker spot that Harrison was never that good at to begin with—namely dropping back into coverage.

Back to Harrison's release, and my initial reaction to it at Christmas dinner.

After my brother, brother-in-law and I talked about it for a few minutes, I gotta tell ya', I forgot about the whole thing.

During the entirety of the Steelers 34-6 thrashing of the Texans on Christmas Day, the thought of Harrison's future was barely a concern.

But, then, it came up on my weekly post-game podcast with Bryan Anthony Davis, and, while I was politically correct in my assessment of Harrison and how I didn't want him to go to a contender—especially the Patriots—it really wasn't a great concern of mine.

The way I figured it, even if New England signed Harrison, how much could he provide its pass-rush at this stage of the season, and at this stage of his career?

As you know by now, all hell broke loose on Tuesday after Harrison not only paid a formal visit to the Patriots, he signed a deal with them.

So, yes, I guess you can say it was a Steeler fan's worst nightmare.

Predictably, a lot of fans quickly took to social media to voice their displeasure with No. 92, and many are now calling him a traitor for signing with the most bitter of rivals.

But while Harrison has come off looking like the villain to many, perhaps surprisingly, at least as many fans (if not more) are mad at the Steelers for releasing one of their own, again, a beloved figure who has meant so much to the organization.


The Steelers have to do what's best for them, and if they don't think Harrison has it anymore, why keep him on the roster?

You might say they could have just as easily cut other players, such as now highly-out-of-favor nose tackle big Dan McCullers; that would certainly have made a lot of sense, given the unpredictable nature of the NFL, and how injuries can happen at any moment.

But what if Harrison forced the Steelers' hand through disgruntled and insubordinate behavior, as some of his very angry teammates suggested on Wednesday?

As much as you might love Harrison, it's no secret his disposition is often of the surly variety.

When that disposition is on display while dealing with opponents, the media, or even the commissioner of the NFL, it might seem like an endearing quality, one to rally around.

But what if that surliness begins to rear its ugly head in the locker room due to a lack of playing time, and it starts to be directed at his coaches and teammates?

That's when the surly disposition stops being endearing, and it starts to become a problem.

You know how team sports teams are—especially when a championship is there for the taking—they are an all for one and one for all entity.

If someone is looking for the dinghy while the rest of the mates are steering the ship with all their might, those other mates will notice.

We all noticed when Harrison began voicing his displeasure with his lack of playing time, going so far as to say he wouldn't have re-signed with Pittsburgh if he knew it would be just as an insurance policy.

I'm sure Harrison made Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert fully-aware of his feelings, long- before the outside world began to notice them.

Like an old employer once told me right before he let me go, "If you don't want to be here, I'm going to make sure you know where the door is."

Regardless of the particulars of his release, I know what you're going to say, "Harrison could have come up with a timely play in the postseason!"

You mean like an interception, blocked field goal or a strip-sack to clinch a division title?

In-case you may have forgotten, Watt has done all of those things this season—and then some.

In other words, not only is Watt the future at right outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he's the present.

Besides, the Steelers defense has 50 sacks, so it's highly unlikely it will be in-need of anything timely from Harrison, who is nothing but a situational pass-rusher, at best.

Harrison is the past, and, yes, he's with the Patriots, but how desperate must they have been to sign him on the eve of the playoffs?

Sure, Harrison could help New England's struggling pass-rush, but, as a Pirates fan who knows a thing or two about this, there's a big difference between going out and signing a premium free agent, and settling for the only option you could get your hands on.

I am aware of Bill Belichick's genius, and the fear many have of him taking Harrison and putting him in position to make a difference in January.

Predictably, you fear Harrison will come back to haunt the Steelers and walk away with a ring as a member of the Patriots.

In all my years, I've seriously never seen a fan base so willing to roll over and play dead for another organization.

True, the Patriots have had their number, but in-case you forgot, the Steelers may have cleared a mental hurdle in Week 15, when the only thing that prevented them from defeating New England was Al Riveron.

Speaking of Belichick and his genius, if he's such a perfect talent evaluator, why didn't he see the potential in slot corner Mike Hilton, who was on his practice squad in 2016?

I'll bet Hilton would look great in a Patriots' secondary that has had a devil of a time preventing big plays in 2017—and would probably be even worse if not for, well, Al Riveron.

Back to Harrison.

He's free to sign with any team he likes, and you certainly can't blame him for going to one that offers the best chance at both playing time and championship success.

But I remember about a decade ago, when Marian Hossa left the Penguins for the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings because he thought they offered him a better chance at earning a ring.

We all know how well that turned out for Hossa, as he found himself on the Stanley Cup runner-up for a second-straight season.

Finally, you might think the release of Harrison is just more drama by the Steelers, but if he didn't want to be a team player, it was really just what was best for business.

You might lose sleep over James Harrison signing with the Patriots, but I certainly won't.

I'll bet the Steelers won't, either.