It was a hard pill to swallow for many Pittsburgh Steelers’ fans when James Harrison was released a few weeks ago. Harrison was the epitome of what the Pittsburgh Steelers have long been on the defensive side of the ball. Besides an NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award he also authored one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history when he returned an interception 100 yards as time expired in the first half of Super Bowl XLIII.
The other side of Harrison of course is the darker one that includes being the target and poster child for Roger Goodell’s personal assault on violence in the game of football. He did nothing to diminish that image after an interview with Men’s Journal quoted Harrison as saying “If Goodell were on fire he wouldn’t piss on him to put it out.”
Harrison actually made it through the 2012 season without enduring the wrath of the league office when he went without a fine. For a guy that battled knee and back injuries heading into the season, he actually got better week in and week out as the season rolled on as he finished with six sacks. The bad news however was that for the third straight year, his QB pressures were down to the point where he was becoming ineffective on the pass rush.
This off-season, the Steelers apparently offered Harrison a chance to stay with them but with a cut of 30% of his salary. Believing he could do better on the open market, Harrison and his agent decided to say ‘no’ and so the Steelers released the latest iconic linebacker.
Harrison is still unemployed at the time of this writing and I believe there are three reasons why. The first two are obvious.
Harrison is 35 years of age and this is not exactly an age where many NFL players flourish let alone at the position of linebacker. Secondly, Harrison’s injury history isn’t just a few pulled hamstrings and some banged up fingers. He has fought both knee and back injuries for the better part of the last three to four years. These two reasons alone are enough to keep teams away until they get desperate later this summer when injuries and retirements start to take shape.
The other reason he is still without work is the one that I know people are considering but just aren’t saying. Is it possible that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has somehow instructed teams not to employ James Harrison? Don’t laugh and don’t say that’s BS either. It wouldn’t be the first time a commissioner or a group of owners colluded to keep a player or coach from staying or getting back into a particular league.
Look at Goodell’s angle before you doubt this. At a time when the owners just passed yet another rule limiting the violence of the game (banning of running backs using the crown of their helmets) what better time to keep his own personal punching bag in James Harrison out of football for good. Goodell has not spoken publicly as to what he thought of Harrison’s comments in the Men’s Journal article but privately we have been told he was less then thrilled and I certainly wouldn’t blame him.
This allows Goodell to continue taking the high road in regards to how he feels about Harrison and also keeps the former all-pro out of professional football forever. Goodell is not an idiot contrary to popular belief. There is a reason he was named commissioner by the owners and it had to do with two things; making them money and cleaning up the game. The latter in response to the pending lawsuit brought by former players regarding their care after football.
The owners believe Goodell and his minions in the league office are just the guys to handle the changing of the game from a violent, defensive ordeal to a much more high-scoring, offensive showcase. Bigger than that however is the money. The NFL has never been more popular. The NFL Draft has more viewers than the NBA Playoffs and the Pro Bowl, which everyone loathes, draws more viewers than any of the other all-star games. This means that James Harrison is but a Styrofoam cup floating in a sea of much bigger and more important financial things for Goodell and his owners.
My guess is that ultimately a team may ring James Harrison’s phone but the monetary offer he’ll be given will more than likely be insulting. If I had to bet, I’d guess that Harrison wishes he took the cut the Steelers offered him because I doubt he or his agent put much thought into what I’ve raised here. I’ve been wrong many times before, but let’s face it. Would anything Goodell does surprise you?
Marc Uhlmann writes for and co-owns www.steelcityblitz.com. Follow him on Twitter @steeldad and follow the website at @SCBlitz. He can be heard Mondays on Trib-Live Radio at 4pm ET talking Steelers.