The rumors continue to swirl that James Harrison and the Steelers may not be able to reach a deal. I’m just as guilty in perpetuating the buzz as anyone else, hence this article. However, I keep wondering if Harrison is entering the phase where he expects to get paid based on past performance but cannot hope to live up to the previous hype.
Ed Bouchette, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, reports that Harrison and the Steelers have a long way to go to reach a consensus. What would it mean to me as a Steelers fan to see James Harrison put on another uniform? Well, I’m old-school and I like it when players play their whole career with one team. However, that’s not reality in today’s very competitive and commercialized National Football League.
One has to ask, if Harrison leaves for another team, did the Steelers get his best years? Theoretically, yes. Harrison is aging and he’s in a league where veteran experience is not as highly prized as youth and splash. Harrison is 34 years old and will started his 10th year in the league with the 2013 season. Yes, his numbers are very good but this is a “What-have-you-done-for-me-lately” league. Chances are not good that Harrison’s numbers for 2013 will be any where near his 2008 numbers of 101 Total tackles, 67 solo tackles, and 16 Sacks. Harrison has not played a full season for the last two years. Willpower can go a long way, but this is a violent game. I would think that any team who would court Harrison, and I’m sure there are plenty, would use his injury history as a bargaining chip against him.
I just can’t help but think that Harrison and his agent are working off an unrealistic expectation for a 34-year old defensive player. There are no good statistics to predict how long someone can play in the NFL. I’ve seen figures tossed around that range from 3 years to nearly 10 years. Whatever the case, it is hard to think of Harrison as in his prime. At the 10 year point, he has certainly earned the terms “veteran” and “experienced.” He’s no longer the guy who can put a franchise on his back and carry it. Is he a damn good defensive lineman? Unequivocally, yes. However, he’s also one of the most fined players in the league and, whether he wants to admit it or not, he has had to change his style of play. Add it all up: Age+injury history+new NFL rules. That equals a different player than the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He’s still in the same stadium, but James Harrison has had to adapt on the field and he’s going to have to adapt his salary expectations regardless of which team he gets a contract with.