James Harrison

AFC East Notes: Patriots, Jets, Pouncey

James Harrison fired back at the Steelers regarding his 2017 tactics, saying he repeatedly asked for a release this season. The Patriots linebacker said he asked for a release at the beginning of the season when it was clear his role was not what he thought it was going to be, but the team didn’t grant the request, he said on Instagram (via NESN’s Doug Kyed, on Twitter). The 39-year-old edge defender, who did have an extensive role in 2016, said the Steelers continued to tell him he would play only to deactivate him on Sundays or dress him and not deploy him. Harrison has played just 40 snaps across five games this season.

The new Patriots defender — who said he may not have “handled his frustration” well, seeming to confirm some of the accounts of ex-Steelers teammates — said he asked to be released (well, waived, since the trade deadline has passed) early last week before finally seeing the team do so. Harrison said Pittsburgh did not assure him he would be brought back, but the team also didn’t close the door on that possibility prior to his Patriots signing. He described the signing with New England as a “business decision.”

Here’s more from the AFC East.

  • Harrison said no other teams made offers to sign him, Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald notes. Unsurprisingly, Harrison’s Patriots deal is for the prorated veteran minimum. He will earn $58K for his work this week plus playoff shares depending on how far New England advances, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. The Steelers signed Harrison to a two-year contract in March and paid him $2.13MM this season.
  • The JetsTodd Bowles extension talks may have begun as recently as late December, with Rich Cimini of ESPN.com reporting Jets CEO Christopher Johnson opting to be proactive instead of letting Bowles enter a walk year and opening the door to other teams’ overtures. Specifically, Cimini writes that speculation about a Bowles/Cardinals reunion swirled for months. Bruce Arians will make a decision about his future in the offseason, but Bowles excelled as Arizona’s DC before coming to New York. Cimini also notes the Buccaneers, who are keeping Dirk Koetter for 2018, were a team the Jets knew would’ve been interested.
  • One of the reasons the Jets kept Bowles was the team’s surprisingly competitive season with several little-known players thrust to the forefront because of the offseason veteran purge. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link) Bowles doing more with less was not lost on ownership.
  • The Patriots‘ decision to unload Jimmy Garoppolo at the trade deadline hasn’t been fully embraced within the organization, with Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston reporting some felt the team should have pushed the situation as far as it could go — possibly into 2018. While trading Tom Brady was not a broached subject, Curran notes, his age and Garoppolo’s talent made some in Foxborough want to keep Garoppolo as an insurance policy. While that would have been a tricky process, given the $23MM franchise tag’s involvement, Garoppolo is likely going to be tagged after a breakout showing with the 49ers.
  • Mike Pouncey‘s severe hip injury — one that he’s said will induce a hip replacement at some point in the not-too-distant future — prompted one doctor say his career was over, the seventh-year center said (via Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald). However, the Dolphins center made it through 15 games this season. Despite Pro Football Focus grading Pouncey as the league’s No. 25 center this season, Beasley notes the snapper is one of Adam Gase‘s favorites and can expect to be back in 2018.
  • PFF graded Jets guard Brian Winters as one of its worst offensive linemen this season, and the fifth-year player revealed why that might have been the case on Saturday. Winters said (via Twitter) he tore two midsection muscles in Week 2 and tried to play through the maladies the rest of the way. The recently extended lineman will undergo surgery. The Jets placed him on IR earlier this week.

Steelers Players Criticize Harrison’s Exit

Late last week the Steelers made the surprising decision to cut linebacker James Harrison. The veteran went unclaimed but was quickly signed by AFC rival New England. He then let it be known he was unhappy about his playing time and asked for his release several times. James Harrison (vertical)

His Steelers teammates hit back at Harrison on Wednesday, saying it was exactly what he wanted to happen and that he went out of his way to try to get released, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

“Don’t make it look like it’s the team’s fault,” Maurkice Pouncey said. “You think the team and the organization wanted to get rid of James Harrison? Come on, now. If I wanted out, I wouldn’t let the team take the blame for it.”

According to Fowler’s source, Harrison would sleep during position meetings and snore loudly while linebacker’s coach, and Harrison’s former teammate, Joey Porter tried to teach. Another source said Harrison told teammates he was trying to get traded and would leave the facility or stadium at random times or during games when he was inactive.

With the Patriots and Steelers possibly set to meet in the AFC playoffs, some wondered if Harrison would share information with his new team. Linebacker Bud Dupree doesn’t think he will, saying, “I don’t know how many secrets about the playbook Harrison could give to [the Patriots] because I never saw him in meetings.”

Pouncey went as far to say that Harrison, who starred in Super Bowl XLIII vs. the Cardinals, “erased his own legacy” with the departure.

Though surprising to Steelers fans, the move obviously was one that was welcomed and expected by many within the organization. To say there is bad blood here would be putting it lightly.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots Sign LB James Harrison

James Harrison went unclaimed on waivers since being released by the Steelers a few days ago, but has since quickly found a new team. The veteran linebacker has signed with the Patriots, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The contract will only last through the remainder of this season, per Albert Breer of Sports Illustrtaed (Twitter link).

The team has also released linebacker Trevor Reilly to make room on the 53-man roster, reports Mike Reiss of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

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Harrison, 39, has had an amazing career since latching on with the Steelers after going undrafted as a rookie. He was currently in his second stint with the team after a quick stop with the Bengals in 2013. However, the veteran saw his role with the Steelers diminish greatly this season, appearing in just five games in Pittsburgh.

While Harrison may not be the player he once was, he may be able to bring some leadership and ample postseason experience to a youthful New England defense team next month.

The Patriots could use some more depth at the linebacker position with likes of Elandon RobertsDavid HarrisMarquis Flowers getting much of the playing time. In addition, starter Kyle Van Noy was forced to sit out in Week 16 because of a calf injury.

The signing also adds further fuel to the rivalry between the Patriots and the Steelers as both groups look to be in strong position once again to meet in the AFC Championship for a second year in a row. Both teams earned first round byes with wins in Week 16.

Field Yates of ESPN.com had previously reported that Harrison was visiting the Patriots today. (Twitter link).

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

James Harrison Goes Unclaimed On Waivers

The Steelers made the relatively surprising decision to release longtime linebacker James Harrison a few days ago. Now we have learned that the 39-year-old went unclaimed on waivers and is free to sign with any team, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

James Harrison

Yates does point out that if both sides are willing, the Steelers and Harrison could work out another agreement so the veteran could play with the team in the postseason. However, that is certainly not a given because of how sparingly the veteran defender played in Pittsburgh.

Harrison only appeared in five games with the Steelers, as the team opted to go with more of a younger linebacker group in Ryan Shazier, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Vince Williams.

But with Shazier sadly out for the season as he deals with his devastating back injury, the defense could use Harrison’s leadership during postseason play.

It’s unusual to see players as old as Harrison find a role in today’s NFL. But he’s known for his incredible workout regimen and passion for football, which could be of great value for any team that’s looking for an extra spark on defense in the playoffs.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Steelers, Harrison, Texans

James Harrison, who was released by the Steelers on Saturday, posted a message on Instagram that seems to hint that an instant return is not in the cards. “Can’t wait to find out what God has in store for me next,” Harrison wrote. “Many thanks to [Steelers Nation] for the years of love and support.” The veteran hasn’t played much this year, but he has been among the team’s most popular players over his 14 years with the club. His release came as a huge surprise and it will be interesting to see if another team will put in a waiver claim on him.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • It has been said that Texans coach Bill O’Brien is on the hot seat, but he recently picked up the endorsement of injured quarterback Deshaun Watson. O’Brien may or may not want to return himself, but he appreciates the support of the Clemson product. “Look, I don’t really know how to answer that question,” O’Brien told reporters (via PFT). “I appreciate all the support that anybody — I think that’s just the way I think any of us are. People support you, it’s a nice thing. But, at the end of the day, we’ve got to focus on Pittsburgh and that’s what we’re trying to do.” O’Brien has one year left on his deal but team owner Bob McNair says there will be no extension talks until the season is through.
  • Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler is likely to start Sunday against Washington, a league source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Recently, Osweiler indicated that he wants to stay with Denver even though the team probably does not see him as a starter for next year. At minimum, he’ll have a platform at the end of the year to prove that he can be an option for the team going forward. Paxton Lynch, for now, will be on the bench.
  • The Texans have placed Tom Savage on IR.

Steelers Cut James Harrison

The Steelers’ latest Super Bowl push will not include James Harrison come playoff time. Pittsburgh cut the veteran outside linebacker, per a team announcement.

Harrison’s departure coincides with the Steelers activating right tackle Marcus Gilbert off the reserve/suspended list. Harrison re-signed with the Steelers on a two-year deal in March. He will now be placed on waivers.

While this move is certainly a surprise given Harrison’s impact in Pittsburgh and his success as recently as last season, the 39-year-old edge rusher has not played much this year. The Steelers used Harrison on just 40 snaps throughout the season, making him a healthy scratch in some games and failing to deploy him in others.

Harrison said earlier this month he would not have re-signed with the Steelers had he known how little he would play. He will now see if another contending team values him more. He’s attached to a two-year, $3.5MM deal with little guaranteed money remaining. He was a full participant in Steelers practice today.

There was no animosity or bad feelings. It’s just the business of the NFL. I believe he still wants to play,” Harrison’s agent, William Parise, told ESPN’s Josina Anderson (Twitter link). “We’ll have to wait and see what happens with waivers.”

A team submitting a waiver claim for Harrison could get him for just $70K weekly, Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap tweets.

If another team does not take on that contract, it’s conceivable Harrison — who began his NFL career with the 2002 Steelers — could return to the team if he clears waivers despite his sporadic usage. The other time he ventured away from Pittsburgh, with the 2013 Bengals, did not go well and led to a sudden retirement. Upon unretiring with the Steelers later that year, Harrison re-emerged as an edge force. As recently as last season, he was one of Pro Football Focus’ top-graded edge defenders. This year, though, Harrison has just five tackles and one sack.

Should this be it with the Steelers, Harrison crafted an impressive resume. He stands atop the storied franchise’s sack hierarchy with 80.5 — 3.5 ahead of Jason Gildon — and earned defensive player of the year acclaim in 2008. That season ended with Pittsburgh’s sixth Super Bowl title, one Harrison helped cement with his 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII.

Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Arthur Moats and Anthony Chickillo comprise the Steelers’ edge-rushing contingent. Gilbert has missed the past four games because of a performance-enhancing drugs suspension.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Rumors: Harrison, Ross, Browns

James Harrison sounds like he’s regretting his offseason decision to re-sign with the Steelers. The 39-year-old edge defender told NBC’s Michele Tafoya he would have signed elsewhere had he known he was going to receive this level of playing time (Twitter link). Harrison’s been active for just four Steelers games and has played just 29 snaps. While the Steelers viewed him as a bullpen-type weapon this offseason, those plans either haven’t come to fruition or are part of a long-game solution by the Super Bowl-contending team. He delivered standout football as a full-timer last season, and Pro Football Focus has not viewed Bud Dupree‘s work highly this season. But it hasn’t been enough to get Harrison on the field. Harrison signed a two-year deal to stay in Pittsburgh in March; the Steelers can save $1.3MM by cutting him after the season. While Harrison could look elsewhere if he wants to continue his career, he’ll turn 40 in May and did not fare well the only other time he left Pittsburgh, having retired from the 2013 Bengals.

Here’s the latest from the North divisions.

  • John Ross enjoyed an up-and-down 2017. The former Washington speedster became a top-10 selection despite offseason injuries but enjoyed one of the more nondescript rookie seasons a first-round wideout has in memory, playing just 17 snaps over three Bengals games and failing to catch a pass. Ross will encounter more hurdles soon. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (on Twitter) Ross will undergo surgery to repair the labrum in his left shoulder. This comes after Ross underwent a procedure to repair the labrum in his right shoulder. While this marks yet another surgery for the oft-injured pass-catcher, Rapoport notes Ross is expected to be ready by OTAs.
  • The Bengals placed Adam Jones on IR on Saturday, but the veteran cornerback does not want to wrap up his career just yet. The 34-year-old Jones said (on Twitter) he’s “not done playing football.” A team option will determine whether Jones will play his age-35 season on the Bengals, who can save $6MM by cutting the polarizing but effective corner.
  • Paul DePodesta and John Dorsey have yet to meet, with their first summit set to come when they watch Sunday’s Browns-Packers game together. Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com reports the team’s chief strategy officer was not in on the GM’s hiring, and the longtime Browns reporter doesn’t see how this setup will work. The former MLB exec and Dorsey will each report to Jimmy Haslam, with some potentially contradictory philosophies, while the Browns attempt to move on from a chaotic period that was largely caused by disparate-thinking voices in the building.
  • However, the draft choices Brown acquired and cap space he helped create were the most attractive part of this job, Dorsey said (via Pat McManamon of ESPN.com). Dorsey will control the 53-man roster for the first time in his GM history, commandeering these responsibilities after Andy Reid had them in Kansas City, and he’ll be entering an offseason with more than $110MM in cap space and five first- or second-round picks in the upcoming draft. Dorsey will also likely have access to the No. 1 pick, just as he did during his first Chiefs draft in 2013. The Chiefs took Eric Fisher atop a lower-regarded draft that year.

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.