Future Of Steelers LB James Harrison Will Be Known Within 10 Weeks

With the offseason now in full swing for the Pittsburgh Steelers the front office will now be tasked with the tough chore of getting the team salary cap compliant by the Mar. 12 deadline. That means over the course of the next two months that several contract restructures will need to be done, restricted free agents tendered and quite possibly a few terminations of contracts be done.

Veteran linebacker James Harrison tops the list of players that could possibly wind up being a salary cap causality as he is set to count $10.035 million against the salary cap in 2013. Harrison, who will turn 35 in May, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last week that he\’s prepared to come back next season, even if it means restructuring his contract for the second time in three years.

While Harrison offers up restructuring as an option, that simply is not feasible to do unless more years are added on to his current contract that expires after the 2014 season. A typical restructure entails turning base salary into signing bonus and stretching that liability out over the remaining years left on the contract. Being as we are only talking about 2013 and 2014 here, that is not an option.

With that option now ruled it, it leaves us with only the option of cutting his base salary. A flat pat cut like nose tackle Casey Hampton took last offseason.

Harrison is scheduled to earn a $6.57 million base salary in 2013. The remaining $3.465 million that figures into his $10.035 cap hit in 2013 is amortized monies from his original signing bonus and previous restructures. Nothing can be done with that $3.465 million as it remains on the books. Nothing! That money is gone and now must be accounted for. Should Harrison be released prior to Jun. 1, that $3.465 million, along with the $1.465 million amortized amount on the books for 2014, come due immediately in 2013 as dead monies. That would mean that the total dead money charge in 2013 on Harrison would be $4.93 million, which clears $5.105 in 2013 cap space.

So now that we have established that the least amount that Harrison can count against the 2013 cap if released is $4.93 million, we can work backwards from there. How much of his $6.57 million base salary would he be willing to give back to the Steelers in order to stay? Remember, he clears $5.105 million if released. Would he be willing to take a $3 million cut of his base salary? $4 million? That\’s about what it would take for him to play in Pittsburgh next season, in my honest opinion.

Keep in mind that even if Harrison were to take that cut in pay, that is money that comes out of the Steelers pockets and that salary would be guaranteed if he is on the roster come the first week of the season. Can you see the predicament that both Harrison and the Steelers are faced with here? Sure, Harrison might want to play next season, but would he be willing to put his back and knees through another grueling season for $3.57 million or less?

Another thing to keep in mind when it come to Harrison is the fact that linebacker Jason Worilds will be entering his final year under contract in 2013. Isn\’t it about time to get him on the field as a starter? Should the Steelers bring back Harrison, even at a reduced rate, he would be expected to start and that would signify that the organization deems Worilds a complete bust.

The Steelers undoubtedly will be drafting an outside linebacker early on in the April draft and don\’t forget about linebacker Chris Carter, who will be entering his third year under contract in 2013. Now throw Adrian Robinson into the mix and you can see the depth chart dilemma that the Steelers will also be facing next season at the outside linebacker position. The combined cap hits of Worilds, Carter and Robinson in 2013 is a mere $2.063 million.

As much as it pains me to keep writing it, I just can\’t see how it is possible for Harrison to come back in 2013 unless a few other veterans such as Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel are released and/or take considerable pay cuts. I have already trimmed $20 million off the cap with several restructures that will have to take place and that still leaves the chore of trying to get cornerback Keenan Lewis and guard Ramon Foster, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents, signed to new deals.

“Change is part of the game, and no one can play this game forever,” Harrison told the paper.

The Steelers will make quite a few changes over the course of the next several weeks and Harrison remains very likely to be one of those changes. At least we won\’t have to wait all summer before finding out.

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