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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.

Games Sacks & Tackles Fumbles
Rk Player Year Age Tm G GS Sk Tkl Ast Fmb FR Yds TD FF
1 Bill Romanowski 2001 35 DEN 16 16 7.0 55 14 0 0 0 0 2
2 Jason Taylor 2009 35 MIA 16 15 7.0 33 9 0 1 48 1 3
3 James Farrior 2010 35 PIT 16 16 6.0 80 29 0 1 8 0 1
4 Willie McGinest 2006 35 CLE 14 13 4.0 37 9 0 1 0 0 0
5 Cornelius Bennett 2000 35 IND 16 15 3.0 36 14 0 1 0 0 0
6 London Fletcher 2010 35 WAS 16 16 2.5 87 49 0 3 -3 0 3
7 Shelton Quarles 2006 35 TAM 12 12 2.5 69 38 0 0 0 0 3
8 Paris Lenon 2012 35 ARI 16 16 2.0 73 30 0 1 0 0 1
9 Ray Lewis 2010 35 BAL 16 16 2.0 102 37 0 3 1 0 2
10 Marvcus Patton 2002 35 KAN 16 15 2.0 71 21 0 2 5 0 0
11 Brendon Ayanbadejo 2011 35 BAL 16 0 1.5 23 6 0 2 0 0 0
12 Keith Brooking 2010 35 DAL 16 16 1.0 73 24 0 0 0 0 0
13 Hardy Nickerson 2000 35 JAX 6 6 1.0 27 4 0 0 0 0 0
14 Junior Seau 2004 35 MIA 8 8 1.0 31 26 0 1 0 0 0
15 Takeo Spikes 2011 35 SDG 16 16 1.0 64 43 0 0 0 0 0
16 Zach Thomas 2008 35 DAL 16 14 1.0 65 29 0 1 0 0 0
17 Micheal Barrow 2005 35 DAL 1 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
18 Derrick Brooks 2008 35 TAM 16 16 0.0 58 15 0 0 0 0 1
19 Chad Brown 2005 35 NWE 15 5 0.0 31 8 0 0 0 0 0
20 Tedy Bruschi 2008 35 NWE 13 12 0.0 38 37 0 0 0 0 0
21 Donnie Edwards 2008 35 KAN 7 4 0.0 27 9 0 0 0 0 0
22 Clark Haggans 2012 35 SFO 8 0 0.0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0
23 Larry Izzo 2009 35 NYJ 12 0 0.0 0 3 0 2 0 0 1
24 Jason Kyle 2007 35 CAR 16 0 0.0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0
25 Mike Peterson 2011 35 ATL 15 4 0.0 16 7 0 0 0 0 0
26 Roman Phifer 2003 35 NWE 16 15 0.0 67 33 0 0 0 0 1
27 Jessie Tuggle 2000 35 ATL 8 7 0.0 26 7 0 0 0 0 0
28 Mike Vrabel 2010 35 KAN 16 16 0.0 30 18 0 0 0 0 1
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.

Games Sacks & Tackles Fumbles
Rk Player Year Age Tm G GS Sk Tkl Ast Fmb FR Yds TD FF
1 Trace Armstrong 2000 35 MIA 16 0 16.5 24 10 0 0 0 0 7
2 John Randle* 2002 35 SEA 12 12 7.0 13 2 0 0 0 0 0
3 Bill Romanowski 2001 35 DEN 16 16 7.0 55 14 0 0 0 0 2
4 Jason Taylor 2009 35 MIA 16 15 7.0 33 9 0 1 48 1 3
5 Leonard Little 2009 35 STL 13 13 6.5 19 4 0 0 0 0 0
6 Bryant Young 2007 35 SFO 16 16 6.5 30 4 0 0 0 0 1
7 James Farrior 2010 35 PIT 16 16 6.0 80 29 0 1 8 0 1
8 Henry Thomas 2000 35 NWE 16 5 4.5 24 18 0 1 0 0 0
9 Rob Burnett 2002 35 MIA 15 0 4.0 10 4 0 0 0 0 0
10 Kevin Carter 2008 35 TAM 16 16 4.0 28 21 0 0 0 0 1
11 Willie McGinest 2006 35 CLE 14 13 4.0 37 9 0 1 0 0 0
12 Cornelius Bennett 2000 35 IND 16 15 3.0 36 14 0 1 0 0 0
13 Michael Strahan 2006 35 NYG 9 9 3.0 28 10 0 0 0 0 0
14 Marco Coleman 2004 35 DEN 16 16 2.5 21 7 0 1 -2 0 1
15 London Fletcher 2010 35 WAS 16 16 2.5 87 49 0 3 -3 0 3
16 Vonnie Holliday 2010 35 WAS 15 2 2.5 16 13 0 0 0 0 0
17 Shelton Quarles 2006 35 TAM 12 12 2.5 69 38 0 0 0 0 3
18 Grady Jackson 2008 35 ATL 15 14 2.0 23 5 0 0 0 0 0
19 Tyoka Jackson 2006 35 DET 15 0 2.0 8 4 0 0 0 0 0
20 Paris Lenon 2012 35 ARI 16 16 2.0 73 30 0 1 0 0 1
21 Ray Lewis 2010 35 BAL 16 16 2.0 102 37 0 3 1 0 2
22 Marvcus Patton 2002 35 KAN 16 15 2.0 71 21 0 2 5 0 0
23 Warren Sapp* 2007 35 OAK 16 16 2.0 37 13 0 1 0 0 2
24 Ted Washington 2003 35 NWE 10 10 2.0 31 8 0 0 0 0 1
25 Pat Williams 2007 35 MIN 16 16 2.0 43 19 0 2 0 0 0
26 Jeff Zgonina 2005 35 MIA 16 3 2.0 23 20 0 1 0 0 0
27 Brendon Ayanbadejo 2011 35 BAL 16 0 1.5 23 6 0 2 0 0 0
28 Keith Brooking 2010 35 DAL 16 16 1.0 73 24 0 0 0 0 0
29 Kelly Gregg 2011 35 KAN 16 14 1.0 24 14 0 0 0 0 0
30 Travis Kirschke 2009 35 PIT 12 7 1.0 16 10 0 0 0 0 0
31 Hardy Nickerson 2000 35 JAX 6 6 1.0 27 4 0 0 0 0 0
32 Anthony Pleasant 2003 35 NWE 7 0 1.0 1 0 0 1 6 0 0
33 Kelvin Pritchett 2004 35 DET 16 0 1.0 10 7 0 0 0 0 0
34 Trevor Pryce 2010 35 13 0 1.0 3 1 0 0 0 0 0
35 Trevor Pryce 2010 35 NYJ 10 0 1.0 3 1 0 0 0 0 0
36 Bryan Robinson 2009 35 ARI 16 15 1.0 17 11 0 1 0 0 0
37 Junior Seau 2004 35 MIA 8 8 1.0 31 26 0 1 0 0 0
38 Takeo Spikes 2011 35 SDG 16 16 1.0 64 43 0 0 0 0 0
39 Zach Thomas 2008 35 DAL 16 14 1.0 65 29 0 1 0 0 0
40 Kimo von Oelhoffen 2006 35 NYJ 16 16 1.0 17 11 0 0 0 0 0
41 Micheal Barrow 2005 35 DAL 1 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
42 Derrick Brooks 2008 35 TAM 16 16 0.0 58 15 0 0 0 0 1
43 Chad Brown 2005 35 NWE 15 5 0.0 31 8 0 0 0 0 0
44 Tedy Bruschi 2008 35 NWE 13 12 0.0 38 37 0 0 0 0 0
45 Donnie Edwards 2008 35 KAN 7 4 0.0 27 9 0 0 0 0 0
46 Jason Ferguson 2009 35 MIA 9 9 0.0 15 8 0 0 0 0 0
47 Clark Haggans 2012 35 SFO 8 0 0.0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0
48 Bobby Hamilton 2006 35 NYJ 16 0 0.0 19 11 0 1 0 0 0
49 Casey Hampton 2012 35 PIT 16 16 0.0 11 15 0 0 0 0 0
50 Chad Hennings 2000 35 DAL 8 8 0.0 18 7 0 1 0 0 1
51 Chris Hoke 2011 35 PIT 6 2 0.0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0
52 Larry Izzo 2009 35 NYJ 12 0 0.0 0 3 0 2 0 0 1
53 Jason Kyle 2007 35 CAR 16 0 0.0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0
54 John Parrella 2004 35 OAK 16 0 0.0 20 2 0 0 0 0 0
55 Mike Peterson 2011 35 ATL 15 4 0.0 16 7 0 0 0 0 0
56 Roman Phifer 2003 35 NWE 16 15 0.0 67 33 0 0 0 0 1
57 Trevor Pryce 2010 35 BAL 3 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
58 Orpheus Roye 2008 35 PIT 6 0 0.0 3 3 0 0 0 0 0
59 Aaron Smith 2011 35 PIT 4 4 0.0 3 5 0 0 0 0 0
60 Hollis Thomas 2009 35 16 13 0.0 52 18 0 1 0 0 0
61 Hollis Thomas 2009 35 CAR 13 13 0.0 26 9 0 1 0 0 0
62 Hollis Thomas 2009 35 STL 3 0 0.0 26 9 0 0 0 0 0
63 Keith Traylor 2004 35 NWE 16 10 0.0 23 5 0 0 0 0 0
64 Jessie Tuggle 2000 35 ATL 8 7 0.0 26 7 0 0 0 0 0
65 Mike Vrabel 2010 35 KAN 16 16 0.0 30 18 0 0 0 0 1
66 Renaldo Wynn 2009 35 WAS 2 0 0.0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/12/2013.

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About Dave Bryan

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • 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.

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