When the Pittsburgh Steelers re-signed James Harrison at the age of 36 to a two-year contract in 2015, they did so under very different circumstances. He was already a few weeks into retirement when they phoned him up and asked him to get off the couch and onto the field to absorb some snaps they would need to make up for after their starter went down.
For as well as he might have played in spurts during that 2014 season, even going so far as the earn the top spot in the rotation at the right outside linebacker position by the end of the season, he was certainly still a shadow of his former self.
There was debate as to whether or not he would even want to return for another year, and whether or not the Steelers would want him to return, let alone if he were able. After all, he was available for them to sign the year before after he was released by the Bengals, but they chose not to.
Yet they picked him up pretty quickly and he continued to play the bulk of the snaps, this time with Jarvis Jones, in 2015. He started out with a reduced role in 2016, but by the end of the year, he was logging every snap and was the clear starter.
Now, as we enter 2017, we have Harrison already virtually committed to returning and the Steelers unlikely to re-sign Jones, with nowhere else to turn, and a soon-to-be 39-year-old playing at the highest level that he has seen in half a decade or more.
That to me raises the question of what sort of deal they might have to work out for him in order to bring him back into the fold for another year, because the reality is that they got more than their money’s worth out of Harrison over the course of the past two years, and the player and his agent are certainly going to be aware of that.
The Steelers don’t exactly have any other compelling options to turn to. Neither Arthur Moats nor Anthony Chickillo—despite what some may protest regarding the latter—are really starter material, certainly not with long-term potential. Bud Dupree is progressing, but still hasn’t solidified himself as an obviously good starting pass rusher.
Pittsburgh’s defense still needs Harrison, probably even if they draft another pass-rusher in the first round for the third time in four years. Harrison wants to continue to play, and he also wants to stay close to home, so he surely has his sights set on the Steelers.
That might give the team a little leeway, but I can definitely foresee them having to pay more than many might think in order to bring him back, especially if they approach the situation realistically, knowing that he will probably be needed to continue to start this year.