What We Learned This Week in the NFL Offseason:
- Steelers release James Harrison
- Broncos reportedly have interest in Mendenhall
- Free Agency looming without any big deals on horizon for Pittsburgh
Quite possibly the worst part of each NFL offseason involves the inevitable release of players you’d never expect to be released from their teams. Last offseason the Steelers voluntarily parted ways with Hines Ward, James Farrior, and Aaron Smith. This offseason, facing another salary cap struggle, the Steelers released 2008 DPOY James Harrison after negotiations for a new contract failed. As a fan, you have to prepare yourself each season for shakeups. You have to come to the realization that the 53 man roster will never be exactly the same from one season to the next. As a Steeler fan, you have to have confidence that the offseason moves will only improve the team. As much as we all saw this coming as far as the reports and talks of the negotiations, I can honestly say that I was surprised the Steelers actually released Harrison. I just can’t imagine being Kevin Colbert and saying, “No thank you James Harrison, you go play for another team now.”
Personally, I don’t agree with the release of James Harrison. I don’t think he falls into the category Ward, Farrior, and Smith fell into last season when the coaching staff pretty much wrote them off of being contributors on the field and the front office justified cutting them from the salary cap based on that. The James Harrison situation was a different one. I realize that I may not be a financial wizard that fully understands the salary cap issues the Steelers seem to fall into each and every year and I can accept that at almost 35 Harrison might not exactly be worth the $6.5 million cap hit he was going to cost, but when it couldn’t be more obvious that a player still has what it takes to not only contribute, but also excel in his position why not try to keep him? Reports are that Harrison and his agent turned down a Steelers offer that would have given him about a 30% pay cut but had the opportunity to repay him the entire amount he would have originally earned in incentives. I can’t fault Harrison for turning that down. Sure he’s taking a gamble thinking that another team will pay him that much, but a player of his status who keeps himself in top physical condition every year is entitled to his salary. I hope his gamble pays off for him, I honestly do. I realize that the Steelers more often than not have been known for releasing players at the right time and have always had, especially in the LB position, a tradition of stars emerging when given the chance to replace a former legend. Everyone raise your hand if you think Jason Worilds is that guy.
Speaking of the looming free agency and roster shake ups, the Denver Broncos have reportedly shown interest in UFA Rashard Mendenhall. When Steelers GM Kevin Colbert spoke at the NFL Combine last month he was asked if the Steelers RB of the future was currently on the roster and he only included Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer into that discussion. Both Redman and Dwyer are RFA’s and have already been offered tenders. I’m not sure if there’s anyone in Steeler Nation that’s going to be as emotional with the departure of Rashard Mendenhall as James Harrison. The last couple of seasons rushing game for the Steelers ran more like a car with no engine than the rushing game we all know and love. The Steelers do not have an every down back on the team right now and I’d like to think that they might have the capabilities to get one this offseason, but like always the Steelers are not expected to make any kind of noise during free agency.
I have a gripe with Kevin Colbert on the free agency front. I realize we’ve all heralded him for his abilities to restructure contracts and work the salary cap jigsaw puzzle that seems to befuddle the team each offseason, but isn’t it kinda his fault the Steelers get themselves into the salary cap hell they get into each year? What’s with creating all these contracts that need restructuring so many times? And if you have to part ways with a James Harrison in the name of salary cap efficiency, what are you going to offer in return? What can the fans expect the team to look like at the start of training camp? I cannot buy into the Steelers having anything resembling a rebuilding year while Ben Roethlisberger is still under center and in fact about to enter the prime years of his career. If the Steelers are not reloading the team each offseason with the objective to compete for the Super Bowl each year, they’re doing themselves, their franchise quarterback, and their fans a disservice.