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.