AFC North Notes: Harrison, Manziel, Steelers

Following an up-and-down 2013 season with the Bengals, veteran linebacker James Harrison looked like he was on his way to retirement. However, he changed course when an opportunity arose to rejoin the Steelers, and in his last two seasons, Harrison has been an effective part-time player for the club, most recently racking up three sacks against the Colts on Sunday night.

There aren’t many NFL players born in the 1970s who are still active, and it’s possible that this year could be Harrison’s latest. However, the 37-year-old doesn’t sound ready to call it a career quite yet, as Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes.

“You know, I still got another year on the contract,” Harrison said. “So we will play this year out; I’m not even thinking about that at this point to be honest with you. I can’t think any further ahead than the next game. We’re right now in a situation where we have to.”

As Harrison and the Steelers prepare for an AFC North showdown against the Bengals, and attempt to continue their push for a playoff spot, let’s check in on the latest out of the division:

  • While head coach Mike Pettine wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Browns will have a zero-tolerance policy for Johnny Manziel going forward, he did admit that repercussions would likely be harsh if the quarterback has another off-field incident (Twitter link via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal).
  • In his examination of the NFL’s most underpaid extension-eligible players, Joel Corry of identifies Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, Browns tight end Gary Barnidge, and Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele as a few AFC North players who fit the bill. Barnidge and Osemele are headed for unrestricted free agency, and Brown could very well get an extension from Pittsburgh this offseason, so I don’t expect the trio to remain underpaid for long.
  • Veteran running back DeAngelo Williams has been excellent in an increased role for the Steelers, having averaged 137.2 yards from scrimmage over his last five games. As Corry observes (via Twitter), Williams’ performance not only helps Pittsburgh win now — it also provides the team some leverage in upcoming extension negotiations with starting running back Le’Veon Bell, who will be entering a contract year in 2016.
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5 comments on “AFC North Notes: Harrison, Manziel, Steelers

  1. Connor Byrne

    I don’t agree with Corry about the Bell/Williams situation. Bell is an elite player at 23 years old. Williams has been tremendous, but he’s also among the oldest backs in the league at 32. Compared to Bell, you can’t rely on him or anyone else being the answer going forward. If Bell were a few years older and had more tread on his tires, the Steelers would have cause to play hardball on a new contract for him. He’s young and has several prime years left, though, so I think he deserves to be paid like the best RB in the league. Plus, it isn’t a bank-breaking position relative to certain others (WR, for example) – the highest total value, annual value and guaranteed money at the moment are $43.5M, $14M and $20.75M, respectively. If the Steelers try to lock up Bell long term prior to next season, a reasonable increase on those numbers should be the ballpark for a deal. I think he’s worth it.

    • TJECK109

      I agree. Having Williams playing well will not and should not play into the bell extension. Williams will be close to 34 by time bell is a FA. If anything I would argue it gives bell an upper hand.

    • Luke Adams

      I’m not sure whether Corry’s point was that the Steelers would point to Williams as someone they could rely on going forward. Their (hypothetical) argument could be more along the lines of: This 32-year-old running back that looked like he was done last season is playing this well in our system. So why should we invest heavily in a running back when we can get this sort of production on the cheap?

      • Connor Byrne

        It’s not a bad argument. In most instances, I don’t think a running back is worth a huge investment. I view Bell as a special case – a Faulk/Tomlinson type in terms of his dual-threat capabilities, and he’s still really young. The Steelers’ offense has done well without him this year, but it reminds me of another Pittsburgh team – the Penguins – succeeding in past years when Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin were out of their lineup with injuries. It didn’t make either less valuable or elite. You still want them out there. I’m of the belief the Steelers should lock up Bell and Brown and take a few more kicks at the Super Bowl can while Roethlisberger still has time. It’s the best QB/RB/WR trio in the game, and they’ll have a chance to win it all every year with those three at the forefront of their franchise.

        • Luke Adams

          Yeah, I don’t necessarily think that they shouldn’t invest in Bell. I do think Corry is right that Williams’ success gives them some leverage in extension talks, since the situation in Pittsburgh isn’t like Adrian Peterson’s in Minnesota — the Steelers’ offense can still be pretty explosive without Bell, whereas a team like the Vikings is more likely to struggle without its star running back. Talent is talent though, and I think the Steelers will try to extend Bell if the price is right.

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