James Harrison

North Notes: Long, Browns, Lions, Harrison

Kyle Long will return to action Sunday after missing 10 games, between the 2016 and ’17 seasons, with a severe ankle injury. The veteran Bears guard shed some light on why the recovery took so long after the November 2016 setback. Long said (via Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune) he “tore everything but his Achilles” during a gruesome sequence in the Bears’ eighth game last season. This included four ankle ligament tears. No broken bones occurred, but this induced the lengthy rehab process. It’s been more than 10 months since the Bears’ three-time Pro Bowl blocker stepped on a field for a game. Long’s father, Hall of Famer Howie Long, said he should have started training camp on the PUP list to prevent from attempting to come back too early.

Here’s the latest from the North divisions as its teams make final preparations for their third regular-season games.

  • Kenny Britt‘s Browns tenure has not started off well. The 29-year-old wide receiver has just two receptions for 15 yards, on five targets. Recent practice squad promotion Rashard Higgins more than doubled Britt’s season target figure in Week 2. When the Browns signed Britt to a four-year, $32MM contract in March, an anonymous NFL executive told cleveland.com’s Terry Pluto the deal came with risk because Britt could become an “attitude problem.” Pluto characterizes Britt as having trouble in this department while with the Titans before re-routing his career with the Rams with a 1,000-yard season in 2016. Now paid handsomely by a non-contending team, Britt has an uphill battle to prove he’s worth the investment. The bulk of Britt’s guaranteed money will be paid out this season, but the ninth-year veteran’s 2018 dead-money figure is higher than the cap savings that would come the Browns’ way with a release.
  • DeShone Kizer left last weekend’s game due to migraine headaches. Pluto notes the Browns were aware of this trouble, but since the issue never impeded the quarterback during a game at Notre Dame, the Browns didn’t deem it a medical red flag. A waiver claim last year, 2016 fifth-round pick Kevin Hogan came on in relief of Kizer and has usurped Cody Kessler for the backup job.
  • Teryl Austin‘s been a frequent visitor for teams seeking head coaching interviews in recent years. He met with the Chargers in January and spoke with the Browns, Dolphins, Giants and Eagles in 2016. The veteran Lions DC has yet to receive a chance to lead a team, and while Austin said last year he felt only two of his 2016 interviews were legitimate, some teams may have had issues with the DC’s ideas for a staff, Kyle Meinke of MLive.come notes. However, Meinke adds Austin has rectified those seemingly minor concerns, and teams “love the way he’s interviewed.” If the Lions turn in a solid defensive performance this season, Meinke envisions the 52-year-old defensive mind landing a coaching gig in 2018.
  • When T.J. Watt went down with a groin injury in Week 2, Anthony Chickillo, not James Harrison, replaced the rookie. The Steelers have Harrison his first DNP-CD since 2003, and the 39-year-old linebacker addressed these concerns this week. “Just doing what I’m asked,” Harrison said, via Chris Adamnski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “You’re not going to get any other answer than that. So if you have any other questions about playing time, you ask coach T (Mike Tomlin).” Tomlin said Chickillo’s insertion into the game came because he wanted to “leave the hot hands in there.” Harrison started seven games last season and rated as one of Pro Football Focus’ best edge defenders. Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter said earlier this year he plans to use Harrison as a relief pitcher of sorts despite the two-year deal the outside ‘backer signed in March. The franchise is following through with that plan so far.

Extra Points: Fins, Steelers, Bills, Cowboys

The Seahawks, Texans, and Vikings have all expressed interest in free agent cornerback Tramaine Brock, but they’re only three of a dozen clubs who have inquired on Brock, reports Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Twitter link). The interest in Brock isn’t all that surprising, especially now that he’s no longer facing domestic violence charges. A starting-caliber cornerback rarely becomes available in August, but the 28-year-old Brock graded as the league’s No. 23 corner while playing 95% of San Francisco’s defensive snaps a season ago, per Pro Football Focus.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • While the Dolphins are expected to work out linebacker Rey Maualuga on Wednesday, Miami could also ask about fellow free agent ‘backer Perry Riley, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald (Twitter link), who says “don’t be surprised” if the Dolphins look at the former Raider. With rookie Raekwon McMillan lost for the season after tearing his ACL, Miami is looking for more depth at the second level of their defense. Riley, 29, posted a breakout season in 2016, but hasn’t been linked to any clubs since free agency opened in March.
  • James Harrison isn’t expected to serve as a starter for the Steelers next season, as the club will use young edge rushers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt in prominent roles, as Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. Harrison played 56% of Pittsburgh’s defensive snaps in 2016 and managed five sacks, but he’ll be used as more of a “relief pitcher” in 2017, says Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter. Entering his age-39 campaign, Harrison could probably use the extra rest, even though he still might be Pittsburgh’s best pass rusher.
  • Bills general manager Brandon Beane said he was “annoyed” at accusations of tanking after Buffalo agreed to trade Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby last week, according to Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. Pointing to acquisitions of Anquan Boldin, Jordan Matthews, and E.J. Gaines, Beane disputed that the Bills aren’t attempting to win in 2017. However, each of those three players’ contracts will expire in 2018, and the driving force behind Buffalo’s two deals seemed to be the receipt of draft pick capital.
  • The Cowboys worked out defensive back Julian Wilson today, tweets Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. Two other defensive backs — Dejaun Butler and John Green — also auditioned for Dallas and were signed, a likely indication that Wilson won’t be joining the roster.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Shazier, Harrison

Myles Garrett‘s recent trouble with left leg maladies returned this week, with the Browns announcing the No. 1 overall pick sprained his left foot. Although he’s expected to be ready for training camp in just more than five weeks, the fact that Garrett’s junior season at Texas A&M was interrupted by left ankle trouble is not a good sign. But the Browns have invested heavily in their edge rushers over the past few years.

The Browns have some additional options at defensive end this season to supplement Garrett, with recent draft picks now firmly stationed there. Whereas the team moved Emmanuel Ogbah from outside linebacker to end in the team’s previous 3-4 scheme last season, the 2016 second-round pick is a more natural 4-3 end, Terry Pluto of cleveland.com notes. This applies to 2016 third-rounder Carl Nassib as well, with Nate Orchard now lining up there too. Prior to becoming a 3-4 outside ‘backer with the Browns after being taken in the 2015 second round, Orchard registered 18.5 sacks at Utah as a senior while at end.

Cleveland’s defensive end contingent also features Desmond Bryant, who is returning from a torn pectoral muscle that erased his 2016 season. Bryant has not played 4-3 end since he was with the Raiders, and he also saw time as a defensive tackle with the Silver and Black. The 31-year-old Bryant would be a good bet to be one of the players the Browns could shift to tackle in sub-packages.

Here’s the latest from the North divisions.

  • Had Ryan Shazier been a second-round pick in 2014 instead of going in the first, he would be entering a contract year. But the Steelers picked up the inside linebacker’s fifth-year option in April to tie him to the team through 2018. Shazier is not on board with this setup. “Yeah, that kind of sucks,” Shazier said, via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, of the system that can tie first-rounders to their rookie deals for five years. “Sometimes guys have to wait five years. Other guys don’t. But that’s what they agreed on in the past. Next time (during CBA negotiations) we’ve just got to do a better job of structuring what we want to do.” Also weighing in on the positions 2014 draft class mates Odell Beckham and Aaron Donald are in, Shazier said rookies should have the opportunity to renegotiate their deals before they accrue three years of service time. “At the end of the day, that’s between you and the team. If the team wants to do that, it’s great,” Shazier said. “… If you play at that level, you should be able to re-up whenever you want to.” Shazier is signed through 2018, with a guaranteed-against-injury ’18 salary of $8.78MM set.
  • It doesn’t sound like James Harrison will be going through a regular training camp. The Steelers know what they have in the 39-year-old veteran, and he knows the team’s system. In minicamp, Pittsburgh gave the league’s oldest defender freedom to prepare on his own, giving his reps to first-rounder T.J. Watt, per Fowler. Notorious for conducting unusual workouts in the offseason, Harrison enters his 14th Steelers season. Fowler notes Harrison will work participate in 11-on-11 drills on some days but will be excused during others. “It’s good for the young guys to get the reps,” linebackers coach Joey Porter said at minicamp. “Right now, we’re not going to ask him to do a whole lot. The defense is learning, getting comfortable.”
  • It’s looking more like the latest hip injury Dennis Pitta suffered, one that led to the Ravens releasing the longtime tight end, will end his career.

AFC Notes: Smith, Jets, Bolts, Steelers

The Jets reached out to retired wide receiver Steve Smith about playing in 2017, the former Panther and Raven told Kim Jones of NFL Network (via Chris Wesseling of NFL.com). It’s unclear when that occurred, and it seems like an odd move for a rebuilding team that has spent the offseason dumping 30-somethings (including receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker). Regardless, the 38-year-old Smith isn’t coming back, and Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News tweets that the Jets were merely doing their due diligence when they contacted him.

More on Gang Green and two other AFC clubs:

  • The Chargers announced Tuesday that first-round receiver Mike Williams will miss the rest of their offseason program with a mild disc herniation in his lower back. Williams has been dealing with the injury since suffering it on the first day of minicamp nearly a month ago, and head coach Anthony Lynn implied in late May that the ex-Clemson star was behind the 8-ball as a result. Now, Williams could be at risk of beginning training camp on the physically unable to perform list, notes Kevin Patra of NFL.com.
  • A report in 2015 linked Steelers linebacker James Harrison to performance-enhancing drugs, and though the NFL didn’t find any evidence against him, it’s still suspicious of the pass rusher, writes Joshua Axelrod of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The NFL tested Harrison for PEDs for the third time this offseason on Tuesday, leading the 39-year-old to suggest on Instagram that the league is insulting his intelligence by claiming the tests are random.
  • The league is looking into the dispute that occurred between Jets linebacker Darron Lee and his girlfriend at the Governors Ball music festival last Saturday in New York City, per Kimberley A. Martin of Newsday. The Jets also investigated the altercation, but they quickly cleared Lee of any wrongdoing. “He had an argument with his girlfriend,” said head coach Todd Bowles. “What do you want me to discipline him (for)? He had an argument with his girlfriend and somebody took a photo.” Bowles added that he spoke with “10 people” about the incident before deciding discipline wasn’t in order for Lee.

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.

Read more

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.