James Harrison

Steelers Re-Sign James Harrison

James Harrison has a new two-year deal with the Steelers, according to his agent, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. Harrison has since confirmed his return via Instagram. James Harrison (vertical)

[RELATED: Steelers Sign Antonio Brown To Extension]

Even at his advanced age, we ranked Harrison as the sixth-best edge defender eligible for free agency late last month. In his age-38 season, Harrison totaled 53 tackles and five sacks. Now on the cusp of his 39th birthday, Harrison has signed a new deal that should allow him to retire as a member of the Steelers.

With the exception of the 2013 season, Harrison has spent his entire career in Pittsburgh. From 2007-2011, Harrison earned five consecutive Pro Bowl nods and was also given two First-Team All-Pro selections.

The advanced metrics were also fond of his play last year as Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 11th best edge defender in the NFL out of 109 qualified players. Harrison was equally strong in pass rush and run defending situations and also earned the highest mark of any qualified edge defender for coverage.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position: Defense

NFL free agency will get underway on Thursday, March 9th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. After looking at offense, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

[RELATED: Top 2017 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense]

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.

Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by defensive position for 2017:

Edge defender:

  1. Chandler Jones
  2. Melvin Ingram
  3. Jason Pierre-Paul
  4. Nick Perry
  5. Jabaal Sheard
  6. James Harrison
  7. John Simon
  8. DeMarcus Ware
  9. Lorenzo Alexander
  10. Andre Branch
  11. Julius Peppers
  12. Charles Johnson
  13. Datone Jones
  14. Mario Addison
  15. Dwight Freeney

The Cardinals have already made it abundantly clear that Chandler Jones will see the franchise tag this offseason, and Melvin Ingram and Jason Pierre-Paul are also candidates to be tagged by the Chargers and Giants, respectively. If the latter two are able to hit the open market unfettered, however, they both figure to break the bank. Ingram, Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 edge defender, could be a fit for both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, while JPP will be looking for a long-term commitment after signing consecutive one-year deals.Chandler Jones (vertical)

The rest of this year’s crop of free agent pass rushers is a blend of young defenders searching for their first payday and veterans on the hunt for one last contract. Among the players with youth still on their side, Packers edge defenders Nick Perry and Datone Jones figure to interest different clubs, as Perry is a better match for a 3-4 defense while Jones needs to restart his career as a 4-3 defensive end. John Simon has been overlooked while playing alongside the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus but could represent a hidden gem, while the Dolphins are reportedly prioritizing Andre Branch.

After managing nine sacks over the first nine years of his NFL tenure, Lorenzo Alexander busted out with 12.5 quarterback takedowns in 2016, and now could be looking for a double-digit annual salary. James Harrison and Charles Johnson, meanwhile, look like good bets to return to Steelers and Panthers, respectively, but DeMarcus Ware could be something of a wild card — after missing 11 games in the past two seasons, does the 34-year-old have enough left in the tank? The same could be asked of Dwight Freeney, who at age-37 posted three sacks in a rotational role for the Falcons.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Kawann Short
  2. Calais Campbell
  3. Johnathan Hankins
  4. Brandon Williams
  5. Dontari Poe
  6. Chris Baker
  7. Bennie Logan
  8. Nick Fairley
  9. Alan Branch
  10. Jared Odrick
  11. Karl Klug
  12. Terrell McClain
  13. Lawrence Guy
  14. Earl Mitchell
  15. Stacy McGee

Unlike the edge defender market, the 2017 cadre of interior defensive lineman shouldn’t be overly affected by the franchise tender. Head coach Ron Rivera recently confessed the Panthers will “probably” have to use the tag on Kawann Short, but the rest of the defensive tackles listed here should be able to hit the open market. Of the remaining defenders, Campbell is the best overall player, but given that he’s entering his age-31 season, he may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

Hankins is only 24 years old, and though the Giants are trying to retain him along with the rest of their defensive core, the 6’3″, 320-pound mauler should represent an attractive option to a number of clubs this offseason. Williams, too, offers a massive presence on the inside, while Poe could intrigue clubs based on his first-round pedigree and athleticism (though his play hasn’t always matched his potential). The Redskins’ Chris Baker is a solid, well-rounded defensive tackle, and could constitute a consolation prize for teams that miss out on their top targets.

The rest of the class offers an interesting mix of nose tackles (Bennie Logan), interior pass rushers (Nick Fairley, Earl Mitchell), and run stoppers (Karl Klug, Alan Branch), so clubs hoping to bolster their defensive line should find no shortage of options. Jared Odrick recently hit free agency after being released by the Jaguars, while Terrell McClain, Lawrence Guy, and Stacy McGee could be underrated finds for the right team. McClain, for what it’s worth, has already been linked to the Falcons.

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James Harrison Looking For Two-Year Deal

Pending free agent James Harrison is searching for a two-year deal, his agent Bill Parise told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported yesterday that a new agreement between the Steelers and Harrison could be finalized in “a matter of time,” but Fowler says that talks between the two sides are in fact preliminary.James Harrison (vertical)

[RELATED: Steelers Working To Extend Alejandro Villanueva]

It’s unclear if Pittsburgh is willing to go to two years for Harrison, but they’ve done so in the past — after Harrison came out of retirement prior to the 2014 campaign, he signed a two-year, $2.75MM deal to return to the Steel City. At this point in his career, it seems unlikely Harrison would want to leave the club with which he’s spent all but one year of his 14-season NFL tenure, and Parise tells Fowler that “of course” Harrison prefers to remain with the Steelers.

Harrison, who will be entering his age-39 season, was as effective as ever in 2016, playing on roughly 56% of Pittsburgh’s snaps and grading as the league’s No. 11 edge defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Although he put up five sacks, Harrison’s production wasn’t all in the pass rush, as he scored high marks against the run and ranked as the NFL’s best 3-4 ‘backer in pass coverage.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers, James Harrison Nearing Deal?

The Steelers want to retain veteran edge rusher James Harrison, and “it sounds like a matter of time” before the two sides reach an agreement, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweeted today after speaking with Harrison’s agent.James Harrison

[RELATED: Steelers Working To Extend Alejandro Villanueva]

Harrison, who will be entering his age-39 season, was as effective as ever in 2016, playing on roughly 56% of Pittsburgh’s snaps and grading as the league’s No. 11 edge defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Although he put up five sacks, Harrison’s production wasn’t all in the pass rush, as he scored high marks against the run and ranked as the NFL’s best 3-4 ‘backer in pass coverage.

The league’s oldest defensive player, Harrison has spent his entire career with the Steelers save for a single-season run with the division rival Bengals in 2013. Despite his contributions to the Pittsburgh defense, Harrison has earned less than $2.5MM total during the past two years. He could be in for a slight raise in 2017, but given his age, and the fact that he’s unlikely to join another club, the Steelers can likely keep Harrison around on the cheap once again.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Steelers, Hawks, Giants, Chiefs

The oldest defensive player in the NFL, linebacker James Harrison, is reportedly planning to return for his age-39 season in 2017, and the Steelers are interested in bringing back the pending free agent. “Obviously, we need to have a contract. But I think we’re definitely open to it,” team president Art Rooney II told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Tuesday. “And, from what I understand, at least he’s open to it.” Despite his advanced age, Harrison led the Steelers in sacks (five) in his 14th NFL season and became the franchise’s all-time leader in that category (79.5).

Regardless of whether Harrison’s career continues with the Steelers, they’ll prioritize upgrading their pass rush this offseason, Rooney indicated. “That’s a piece of the puzzle that I think we can identify we want to improve on,” said Rooney, whose club finished ninth in sacks and 15th in quarterback hurries in 2016.

Elsewhere around the league…

  • The Seahawks made a contract offer to pending free agent tight end Luke Willson, but it wasn’t “extremely serious” and he “didn’t really respond to it,” the 27-year-old told KJR-AM 950 (via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times). Willson also revealed that, although his preference is to re-sign with the Seahawks, he’s “excited” about the chance to test the open market. While Willson hasn’t put up gaudy numbers in his four-year Seattle career (74 catches, 976 yards and seven touchdowns in 56 games), he could have a case for a significant payday. As Condotta notes, Willson has similar numbers to San Francisco’s Vance McDonald (64 receptions, 866 yards, seven TDs in 48 games), who landed an extension featuring $16MM in guarantees in December. The Seahawks already have one expensive tight end in Jimmy Graham, who’s due a $7.9MM salary next season.
  • A subpar season – not to mention the $2.5MM in cap savings that would accompany his release – could cost running back Rashad Jennings his place on the Giants’ roster, but he expects to return in 2017. “I’ve got one more year on my contract, and I’ve got a lot to prove. I look forward to doing it in New York again,” the soon-to-be 32-year-old told James Kratch of NJ Advance Media. Jennings, who averaged a paltry 3.3 yards per rush on 181 carries in 2016, added that he and head coach Ben McAdoo had a “very upbeat” exit meeting.
  • Chiefs long snapper James Winchester‘s contract extension is a five-year, $4.45MM pact featuring $500K in guarantees and a $500K roster bonus for 2017, reports Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star. Winchester can also earn $10K in workout bonuses for every year of the deal.
  • Free agent linebacker Justin Tuggle worked out for the Raiders, tweets Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. The son of longtime NFL linebacker Jessie Tuggle spent 2013-15 in Houston, where he appeared in 42 games and started 11, but didn’t play this season after he was unable to survive the Browns’ final cuts in early September.

James Harrison Plans To Return In 2017

James Harrison intends to return for what would be his age-39 season, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Already the game’s oldest defensive player, the Steelers linebacker concluded his second straight full season after a brief retirement in 2014. A 2017 re-emergence would mark Harrison’s 15th NFL s season.

This comes a year after the enduring linebacker was not ready to commit to returning after last season’s playoff exit. But Harrison said weeks ago, per Dulac, he planned on returning due to how well his body held up late in the regular season when the Steelers deployed him constantly.

Harrison turns 39 in May and does not have a contract with the Steelers, but given the team’s near-constant usage of the ageless pass-rusher down the stretch, it’s likely the sides can work something out if the team feels he can be productive for another year.

He finished with five sacks for the second straight season, this time leading Pittsburgh in that category. Harrison played every snap during the Steelers’ final three regular-season games and was out there on 174 of 198 playoff snaps, making a big impact in the Steelers’ first divisional-round victory in six years by recording a sack and drawing the season’s most notable holding penalty.

The former defensive player of the year joins Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones as UFA Steelers’ backers. The team did not pick up Jones’ fifth-year option last May.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Clears Harrison, Matthews, Peppers

The NFL has cleared James Harrison, Clay Matthews, and Julius Peppers in the PED probe, a source tells Tom Pelissero of USA Today (on Twitter). There was “no credible evidence” found in the league’s investigation or interviews. Al Jazeera (vertical)

Late last year, a documentary from Al- Jazeera America linked Harrison, Matthews, Peppers, Peyton Manning, and Mike Neal to a pharmaceutical company in Indiana where Charles Sly claimed that he supplied athletes with performance enhancing drugs. Since then, the NFL has been investigating the five players named and recently began the process of interviewing them.

Manning immediately consented, but the other players were opposed to the interviews and fought back per the advise of the NFLPA. Eventually, Harrison, Matthews, Peppers, and Neal (after some additional deliberation) agreed to do the interviews. Roughly one week later, the first three have been cleared by the league office while there is no word just yet on Neal.

Latest On Harrison, Matthews, Peppers

This week, the NFL interviewed Packers linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers and Steelers linebacker James Harrison with regards to the allegations raised in the infamous Al Jazeera documentary. During those interviews, the league did not raise any new evidence or allegations, a source close to the situation tells Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. Clay Matthews/Julius Peppers (vertical)

After weeks of will they/won’t they talk, the three players consented to interviews with the league office under threat of suspension. Peyton Manning was the first player of the bunch to agree to an interview and free agent Mike Neal stands as the last straggler.

If the league has no further proof of anything tying these players to the Guyer Institute, then a statement clearing all three of them could be forthcoming.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL To Interview James Harrison On Thursday

While a prior report indicated the NFL would meet with Steelers linebacker James Harrison next Tuesday regarding recent PED allegations, the league will instead come to Pittsburgh this Thursday, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. the NFL had always wanted to talk this week — and in fact set a August 25 deadline — but Harrison wanted to speak next week, per Tom Pelissero of USA Today (Twitter links).James Harrison

Last week, the NFL stated that the four players involved in the PED scandal — Harrsion, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, and Mike Neal — would be required to submit to interviews by Thursday or face suspension. The NFL received written statements from the four players in question at the end of last month, and the NFLPA is of the opinion that those affadavits qualify as “cooperation.” The league disagrees, and is still requiring the individuals to partake in in-person interviews.

Harrison, for his part, has said he never denied any interview, but claimed he’d like for the meeting to be televised (and also referred to commissioner Roger Goodell as a “crook”). He, Matthews, and Peppers agreed to sit-downs, but Neal was of a different mind, at least originally. One report indicated that Neal had no intention of meeting with the NFL given that he’s considering retirement, but that notion was quickly disputed, and Neal will interview with the league.

Matthews and Peppers will meet with NFL officials in Green Bay tomorrow, while Neal is scheduled to sit down with the league in Chicago on Thursday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Sets Dates For PED Interviews

The NFL will meet with Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers in Green Bay on Wednesday to discuss the league’s ongoing PED investigation, a source tells Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com (Twitter links). Steelers linebacker James Harrison‘s interview will take place on August 30 in Pittsburgh, while free agent Mike Neal will sit down with the league this Thursday in Chicago.Clay Matthews

Last week, the NFL stated that the four players involved in the PED scandal — which was spurred by an Al-Jazeera documentary that aired earlier this year — would be required to submit to interviews by August 25 or face suspension. The NFL received written statements from the four players in question at the end of last month, and the NFLPA is of the opinion that those affadavits qualify as “cooperation.” The league disagrees, and is still requiring the individuals to partake in in-person interviews.

Harrison, for his part, has said he never denied any interview, but claimed he’d like like for the meeting to be televised (and also referred to commissioner Roger Goodell as a “crook”). He, Matthews, and Peppers agreed to sit-downs, but Neal was of a different mind, at least originally. One report indicated that Neal had no intention of meeting with the NFL given that he’s considering retirement, but that notion was quickly disputed, and Neal will interview with the league.

We’ve spent the last few days advising our players and letting them know in a completely honest and open way exactly what their options are, what they want to do,” NFLPA president Eric Winston said last week. “Each case is different, each guy is different. Each guy might want to do different things so no matter what we’re going fight for them like crazy like we always do, and we’re going go and have our players’ backs. That’s what we’re all about and that’s all we can do and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.