Weighing The Pros And Cons Of A Reunion With James Harrison

Ever since we all heard from his own mouth that “everybody knows” James Harrison would like to come back and play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s been a hot topic that has only recently been reignited by a report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette that the team has had discussions on the matter.

Whether or not those discussions have actually taken place, or if it’s within the realm of possibility to see such a reunion, I think it would still be interesting to weigh some of the potential pros and cons.

On the plus side, it should add some much-needed experienced depth at outside linebacker behind the young Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds. I don’t quite buy into the ‘mentor’ angle that has been brought up as much as some others might, but on-field play has to put him ahead of Chris Carter.

Not only could he provide depth, of course, he could also spot-start in case of injury, which is, again, a much more appetizing notion than having Carter start another game. He clearly knows the defensive system well and would certainly cherish the opportunity to play under Dick LeBeau for presumably one last season.

On the other hand, while the Steelers’ locker room is filled with some of his long-time friends, around whom he is reportedly much different than when confronted by the media, he clearly has a no-nonsense personality and takes pride in his work.

If he could potentially pose a locker room chemistry issue through an unwillingness to accept a very reduced role, even less than the role he played with the Cincinnati Bengals last season, then the entire idea has to be scrapped immediately.

Another immediate deal breaker would be if bringing Harrison back would in any way interfere with the development of Worilds and Jones. After releasing LaMarr Woodley, the organization clearly made their decision that it’s Jones’ job, and that he’ll have to learn whatever there is left to learn on the fly.

A potential problem would be his ability to play special teams, which is about as close to a prerequisite for a reserve outside linebacker as there is. That issue can be mitigated and worked around, however, as both Jones and Worilds have extensively played special teams and can easily continue to do so.

If his one tour of duty with the Bengals showed anything, it’s that Harrison can still be an effective player against the run, even if he wasn’t an ideal scheme fit in their 4-3 system.

He graded out exceptionally well against the run last year, and while his pass rushing was certainly a far cry from what it once was, he still graded fairly well with a pass rushing productivity rating of 10.4, despite having only two sacks.

Whether or not the Steelers would be seriously interested in bringing Harrison back is a situation that could linger for months, as he will likely remain on the market for some time, so Pittsburgh can afford to wait until after the draft and into June to make a decision if they want to.

The bigger obstacle will be Harrison and whether he would be able to humble himself to accept a substantially reduced role that doesn’t guarantee any playing time at all. He would need to sell himself as a team player who won’t cause friction in the locker room, even among friends, and who won’t be a hindrance to the development of the players in front of him, having never been much of a mentor in the past.

I’ve read alternately that this is a brilliant idea and a horrible idea, a no-brainer going both ways. I don’t think it’s such a simple issue.

Harrison is at a point in his career where he knows, quite frankly, that it might be over, and his deep admiration of LeBeau was readily apparent when he was interviewed for the Bengals’ first game against the Steelers last year. Perhaps he truly is humbled, and it is the media trying to make him a bigger story than he needs to be to return to Pittsburgh as a reserve.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • dkoy85

    I hope he is truly humbled- I want to see him back on the field one more year in black and yellow. Who knows, maybe he is willing to offer his insight to Jones. Would be a good addition for depth and allow us to groom our OLB pick for a year.

  • Brendon Glad

    Really glad to see someone write an article talking about some of the “pros”. I’ve felt there are a lot of pros to the situation, with the only cons being if he costs more than the minimum by anything more than a smidgen, or if he shows in camp that he’s really done but they feel too guilty to cut him…or the one you mentioned about him getting disgruntled as the season wears on…particularly if Jones goes thru growing pains that are hurting the W/L column. And we know he probably WILL go thru the pains…but if it causes losing, then I could see it getting too dicey….meaning the Steelers would probably be regretting the decision. Other than that though, I see it as very little to lose…and like you said, he probably will be better than Carter when he’s 45 if Carter remains the key competition he would be battling.

  • Paddy

    Either he can play or he can’t, they can cut him if he doesn’t measure up.

  • srdan

    I can’t find a reason not to have him on the team. 200 snaps on defense and he would probably be the best ST player on the team (no long snapper duties).

  • steeltown

    I think the main issue would be the contract terms, would he accept the 1yr vet minimum (or slightly more) to play in 2014, not that he’d have much choice in that regard. I think if he’s willing to play for a vet deal the Steelers will sign him.


    What he said.

  • ScottB

    I think everyone needs to let go of the nostalgia factor of 92. He was great but those days are gone. Even with the lack of depth I’m not sure there is a good reason for doing this.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I don’t mind delaying jones development if it means we have a better player on the field. I think there are plenty of snaps for both .

    I think Harrison would help Jones develop and get him to work out more.


    I do mind delaying the development of Jones largely because I don’t think we’d be getting a better overall player on the field. More knowledgeable, yes, but JH can’t cover anymore and has lost a step on getting to the edge

  • How do you know he isn’t working out more?

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I know he isn’t working out more than he is now because that would be impossible.

    I also strongly believe that anyone working out with Harrison will work out harder than if he wasn’t there.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    You think that Jones, worlds and carter is better than those 3 with Harrison?

    We agree that we shouldn’t sign him if Tomlin/lebeau won’t put the best player on the field but disagree that Jones is better if he plays every down.


    Think about JH today, not 2 yrs ago. Certain aspects of the position I think JH is still better, (namely pass rushing) but he’s become a liability in coverage (JJ should be better this yr with a yr under his belt).

    JH can’t play ST making his use most valuable as a situational player on 3rd down imo.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    The biggest pro to Harrison is his knowledge of the playbook. That’s it.

    Any team who would sign him between now and the draft needs him more than the Steelers do. If after the draft, this team needs the depth at the position, the price is right, and James understands his supporting role, then sure. Why not.

    Harrison, whether he knows it or not, is the new Keisel or Max Starks…the vet (with a little left in the tank) that this team is permanently ready to move on from.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    Is you only point here that he isn’t as good as he was and doesn’t play special teams?

    What does that have to do with the need for a back up OLB?

    Do you think this is a discussion about which player is better?


    You stated that you wouldn’t mind seeing JJ’s development delayed if a better option was available…I do not believe that JH is a better option today.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    Oh wow. Really?

    You are prepared to lose a game so that Jarvis Jones can develop a little faster?

    First off I couldn’t disagree more.

    Second, I don’t think a player develops slower with a competent back up.

    I don’t think there is any question you go with the best option on the field and that means starting Jones but not overusing him. I think having harrison on the team and playing as many downs as he can play at a higher level than Jones helps the team win and helps in Jones overall development even if it slows it a little.

  • mokhkw

    I’m not concerned about:

    1. The humble bit. He was cut numerous times during his career & has already been humbled. I blame his exit from Pittsburgh on his agent.

    2. The Locker room/leadership thing. As of right now, Harrison is still a better player than Worilds or Jones & should start. Forget last season, he was totally miscast in that role with the Bengals. He’s a better pass rusher & plays the run better than either of them.

    3. His age or physical condition. He’s had nothing major happen, is one of the hardest working guys in the weight room and is a physical marvel. He got a late start to his career (starter in 07) so I think he still has a few good years left.

    I am concerned about:

    1. The past suspensions. If he was to get another helmet-to-helmet fine it could result in multiple game suspension.

    2. His pass coverage.

    3. Paying his too much. That being said, what he got from the Bengals last year was less than what his agent turned down from the Steelers when they asked his to restructure.

    4. How worn down he would get if he had to play every down for the entire season. This is where Jones comes in, resting Harrison while hopefully learning the ropes.

    Ask yourself this – out of Worilds, Jones & Harrison who would you place your $s on to get 10 sacks next season playing with the Steelers?

    Sign him and let he & Jones fight it out for ROLB.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Probably not happening. But as far a potential to work? Look at the evidence. Last year, he was playing in a 4-3 D and he still managed to play the run great like usual, come up with an unexpected INT and get lots of pressure in limited opps., while providing a great example to the young guys of how hard you must work to get as strong as James. Also, there were no problems.

    With the Steelers, he would probably get some playing time, and although he has not been able to cover for years, he will stop the run and get pressure. So, he would be an better than adequate back-up. I love the guy as he was a stud. But the Steelers may not do it. Which is fine, as I am a proponent of getting the young guys some action.


    Yes, really and I’m okay with us disagreeing on this. Clarity on what we’re disagreeing about…I’m all for putting the best player on the field even if it means the younger guy loses snaps.

    Where we appear to disagree is whether JH is that guy. Now if they want to bring in JH as a pass rushing specialist (the only facet I think he’s better at today) I never said I wouldn’t want to see that.

  • DH

    2013 Steelers run defense–not good. JH at 36 still playing “fantastic against the run.” Hmm…..

  • bigsky

    Deebo sets the edge. The Steelers were last in the league giving up rushing yards outside the tackles. LAST! We can use each other, no doubt. I can’t believe there is even a debate. Is he better than Chris Carter is the only question here, That answer is self evident, or should be.

  • Jeff

    I don’t see Harrison causing lockerroom problems due to a reduced role on the defense. It wouldn’t be a surprise or eye opener for him; I mean he was used sparingly at best on Cinci’s defense last year. It’s not new anymore. He knows this is one of his last years, and I think he wants to go out the right way.

  • Jollyrob68

    Your #2 comment is the reason why they can’t bring him back if that’s the way the coaches feel. If you take him back and that happens you just lost Worilds at the end of the season. It’s time for the new stars to step up.
    I’d bring him back for two reasons depth over Carter and to teach Jones how to get stronger.

  • CrazyTerry

    Considering the injury history of Worldis, I highly doubt Harrison wont be needed even when Jarvis gets regular reps. Besides, having Jarvis sit out 20% of his play will hardly slow down his development. The only thing that slows his development is his talent ceiling.


    I think the biggest jump for a rookie that played substantial minutes is from year 1 to year 2. I’m not one that’s convinced JJ is an OLB in this scheme, but we’re not going to find out if he’s sitting….I do agree that 20% is not going to hurt him much.

    I’m just not in the same camp of those thinking JH is an upgrade today, but as a depth guy that can still be effective as a situational player I like the move at the right price.