James Harrison – History Says 35 Is Not A Great Age For Linebackers

The big talk on Tuesday is of course revolves around the report from John Harris of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that stated Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and his agent Bill Parise were not interested in taking a pay cut in 2013. Parise, however, did say that they are willing to do a restructure to help the Steelers clear some salary cap space, but as I pointed out in my most recent post, that simply does not look like a feasible alternative.

Harrison will turn 35 years of age in May and that is historically not an age that has been conducive to success for linebackers dating back to 2000. As you can see in the stats compiled below from Pro Football Reference, only three players have managed to record 6 or more sacks in the season that they turned 35 in. One of those three players to accomplish that feat was Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior, who did it during the 2010 season. Farrior was of course a cap causality just last offseason and has since retired.

In addition to the sack numbers, only 9 of the 28 players listed below played and started in all 16 games during the season that they turned 35 in. That\’s 32% of them if you are scoring at home. Farrior, surprisingly, also was one of those 9 players to do it.

Harrison has not recorded 10 or more sacks since the 2010 season and has not played in all 16 games since that season either. If he were able to accomplish both feats in 2013 he would be the first linebacker to do it since Rickey Jackson did it with the New Orleans Saints back in 1993. That was 20 years ago.

While the Steelers certainly would like Harrison to return in 2013, they simply can\’t afford the risk of paying him the $6.57 million base salary that he is scheduled to earn, which by the way becomes  fully guaranteed the first week of the regular season. A full restructure, assuming no new years were added to the contract, would only save around $2.875 million in cap space, and by doing that it would create roughly another $2.875 million in potential dead money in 2014.

As I have previously posted, there is only one feasible way that Harrison could be allowed to return in 2013 and it would require him taking a straight pay cut of around $3 million or more. At that price he greatly lessens the risk of keeping him and it would help clear much needed salary room for the Steelers in addition.

Harrison has had knee and back problems the last few seasons and that also needs to be taken into consideration.

GamesSacks & TacklesFumbles
1Bill Romanowski200135DEN16167.0551400002
2Jason Taylor200935MIA16157.0339014813
3James Farrior201035PIT16166.0802901801
4Willie McGinest200635CLE14134.037901000
5Cornelius Bennett200035IND16153.0361401000
6London Fletcher201035WAS16162.5874903-303
7Shelton Quarles200635TAM12122.5693800003
8Paris Lenon201235ARI16162.0733001001
9Ray Lewis201035BAL16162.01023703102
10Marvcus Patton200235KAN16152.0712102500
11Brendon Ayanbadejo201135BAL1601.523602000
12Keith Brooking201035DAL16161.0732400000
13Hardy Nickerson200035JAX661.027400000
14Junior Seau200435MIA881.0312601000
15Takeo Spikes201135SDG16161.0644300000
16Zach Thomas200835DAL16141.0652901000
17Micheal Barrow200535DAL100.00000000
18Derrick Brooks200835TAM16160.0581500001
19Chad Brown200535NWE1550.031800000
20Tedy Bruschi200835NWE13120.0383700000
21Donnie Edwards200835KAN740.027900000
22Clark Haggans201235SFO800.02000000
23Larry Izzo200935NYJ1200.00302001
24Jason Kyle200735CAR1600.03000000
25Mike Peterson201135ATL1540.016700000
26Roman Phifer200335NWE16150.0673300001
27Jessie Tuggle200035ATL870.026700000
28Mike Vrabel201035KAN16160.0301800001
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/12/2013.

Per request, below are all defensive linemen and linebackers that played at 35 years of age dating back to 2000 to use as comparison. This includes all defensive line positions, but as you can see, the results don\’t change.

GamesSacks & TacklesFumbles
1Trace Armstrong200035MIA16016.5241000007
2John Randle*200235SEA12127.013200000
3Bill Romanowski200135DEN16167.0551400002
4Jason Taylor200935MIA16157.0339014813
5Leonard Little200935STL13136.519400000
6Bryant Young200735SFO16166.530400001
7James Farrior201035PIT16166.0802901801
8Henry Thomas200035NWE1654.5241801000
9Rob Burnett200235MIA1504.010400000
10Kevin Carter200835TAM16164.0282100001
11Willie McGinest200635CLE14134.037901000
12Cornelius Bennett200035IND16153.0361401000
13Michael Strahan200635NYG993.0281000000
14Marco Coleman200435DEN16162.521701-201
15London Fletcher201035WAS16162.5874903-303
16Vonnie Holliday201035WAS1522.5161300000
17Shelton Quarles200635TAM12122.5693800003
18Grady Jackson200835ATL15142.023500000
19Tyoka Jackson200635DET1502.08400000
20Paris Lenon201235ARI16162.0733001001
21Ray Lewis201035BAL16162.01023703102
22Marvcus Patton200235KAN16152.0712102500
23Warren Sapp*200735OAK16162.0371301002
24Ted Washington200335NWE10102.031800001
25Pat Williams200735MIN16162.0431902000
26Jeff Zgonina200535MIA1632.0232001000
27Brendon Ayanbadejo201135BAL1601.523602000
28Keith Brooking201035DAL16161.0732400000
29Kelly Gregg201135KAN16141.0241400000
30Travis Kirschke200935PIT1271.0161000000
31Hardy Nickerson200035JAX661.027400000
32Anthony Pleasant200335NWE701.01001600
33Kelvin Pritchett200435DET1601.010700000
34Trevor Pryce2010351301.03100000
35Trevor Pryce201035NYJ1001.03100000
36Bryan Robinson200935ARI16151.0171101000
37Junior Seau200435MIA881.0312601000
38Takeo Spikes201135SDG16161.0644300000
39Zach Thomas200835DAL16141.0652901000
40Kimo von Oelhoffen200635NYJ16161.0171100000
41Micheal Barrow200535DAL100.00000000
42Derrick Brooks200835TAM16160.0581500001
43Chad Brown200535NWE1550.031800000
44Tedy Bruschi200835NWE13120.0383700000
45Donnie Edwards200835KAN740.027900000
46Jason Ferguson200935MIA990.015800000
47Clark Haggans201235SFO800.02000000
48Bobby Hamilton200635NYJ1600.0191101000
49Casey Hampton201235PIT16160.0111500000
50Chad Hennings200035DAL880.018701001
51Chris Hoke201135PIT620.03000000
52Larry Izzo200935NYJ1200.00302001
53Jason Kyle200735CAR1600.03000000
54John Parrella200435OAK1600.020200000
55Mike Peterson201135ATL1540.016700000
56Roman Phifer200335NWE16150.0673300001
57Trevor Pryce201035BAL300.00000000
58Orpheus Roye200835PIT600.03300000
59Aaron Smith201135PIT440.03500000
60Hollis Thomas20093516130.0521801000
61Hollis Thomas200935CAR13130.026901000
62Hollis Thomas200935STL300.026900000
63Keith Traylor200435NWE16100.023500000
64Jessie Tuggle200035ATL870.026700000
65Mike Vrabel201035KAN16160.0301800001
66Renaldo Wynn200935WAS200.01000000
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/12/2013.

  • TJimmy

    I thought Jason Worilds played pretty well in James’ absence. If you want to go by sack totals, Worilds had 5 sacks with far fewer snaps.

    Hey, give the man a full season and you might get 10 or more sacks out of him. I think Harrison has played his last snap as a Steeler unless he takes a pay cut.

  • SteelSpine

    That’s a rough 35 too, think city miles vs highway miles, my reason being James getting clotheslined by much taller offensive tackles for 10 years. His most common play being passrush rip move to outside shoulder of OTs, he runs low with so much forward lean that his head is down low (& he’s not tall anyway), OTs have no choice but to clothesline him; they reach down & hook their arm around James’ neck. While James’ body is all leaned forward rushing hard forward, his head is being pried up & backward. That contortion on a guy’s back & neck, all game, for 10 years… No wonder he had back problems. He gave it all to the Steelers. Makes me wonder if he would pass any teams’ physicals. Sorry this doesn’t address how much $ to offer him but If we lose him I hope they make a statue just commemorating that awesome runback after his INT in the SB, that long of run (& including tough determination at end to land in endzone) was one of the few greatest SB plays of all time.

  • Ahmad

    It didn’t help that he was held practically every play with no calls from the refs.

  • mghjr88

    No kidding

  • Mikey Hoje

    My two cents: Actual years played vs the chronological age.

    Harrison started late, 3-4 yrs less actual wear and tear on his body. Ask James for a pay cut and mentor Jason Woriids and squeeze out a final season before retirement.

  • SteelerDave

    This list makes me really miss James Farrior, a truly remarkable career and the best 1st round pick the Jet’s had in the last 20 years. Thank you Farrior for choosing to play for us from 2002 onward.

    Harrison is likely done, age and injuries and the money are too telling. Could he produce at an above average level on final season? Yes. Should he for his own well being and health try to play another season of football? No.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Thought it was funny that Romanowski( the roid head) let all the geezers in sacks. Think the roids helped some…

  • Mikey Hoje

    Again, I wonder in amazement how diligently Dave came up with all the stats; he’s ay-may-zing.

  • mokhkw

    LOL, Harrison & his agent are tying to play hardball with the Steelers but the truth is he’s only got 2 options- take a paycut or get cut.

    Lets say he doesn’t take the paycut and the Steelers release him. No team will offer a 35 yo LB a multi-year deal worth anything more than vet minimum so he’ll lose more $s than if he stayed & took a paycut. Factor in having to move to another city, buying/renting/selling houses etc. and the real value of signing elsewhere becomes less & less.

    Age, injury history the past 2 seasons & having already been suspended for 1 game – which means if he transgresses again he’ll likely get 2 or 3 – makes him an unattractive prospect for other teams.

    Best bet for him is to take a paycut & structure his deal w/incentives so that if he stays healthy & plays well then he’ll make decent $s and have a chance to play again in 2014.

  • Maurice_hill_district

    Agreeing with u on all that.

  • Pete

    Harrison is 35 but only caught on after being cut 3x by the Steelers and once by the Ravens. Harrison only started 4 games in 2004 and 3 games in 2005. In 2006 Harrison started 1 game, being the backup for Porter. In his 5th season, Harrison finally became a starter. Harrison has only played 6 seasons of football as a starter. Next year will be his 7th season if he returns. A “normal” guy may have put in 10-11 years as a starter by now. It’s not unreasonable to think Harrison could play for another 3 seasons.

    Everyone gets injured and while he battled injuries the past 2 seasons, he has healed and should be 100% good to go in 2013. I believe Harrison can put up a 10+ sack season in 2013 due to the uniqueness of his situation. I only hope it’s with the Steelers. Harrison please take a pay cut if that’s what it takes to return.