Kevin Colbert was quoted on Tuesday that he expects James Harrison back with the Steelers in 2016. Most of Steelers Nation met this news with great joy, especially when it was combined with a report that Harrison’s agent, Bill Parise, was quoted as saying that Harrison planned on honoring his contract which calls for one more year of service in Black & Gold. Unfortunately that quote was published out of context by most media outlets because what Parise actually said was,
“I guess we will be there. This is not an announcement or anything like that, but we are under contract, and everything is going forward.”
This according to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Harrison himself chimed in a while later throwing cold water on any sentiment that he would definitely be back in 2016.
Hold up. It's 1 thing to want to come back but it's another to get the body back to where it needs to be. We'll see. https://t.co/34YPjZU5Sh
— James Harrison (@jharrison9292) February 16, 2016
The case can be made that it would be best for the club’s long term interests if Harrison did not come back. This is mainly due to Jarvis Jones being “just a guy”. If Jones were the player the Steelers saw him as when they took him 17th overall in 2013, there would be no reason for concern at right outside linebacker. Unfortunately for the Steelers, he does not seem to be that player. Jones did some good things in 2016 and started every game that he played in.
Unfortunately, rushing the passer was not among the things that Jarvis did well last season. Even in the Colts game versus a line without two starters and having the benefit of the left tackle playing out of position, Jones could not manage a sack in 21 defensive snaps. This is the same game where a 37 year old Harrison netted 7 tackles, 2 for loss, 3 sacks, 3 QB hits and a pass defensed on 37 snaps. Imagine the game a 30-year old James Harrison would have had versus the 2015 Colts under those circumstances. I believe he may have had a good chance at breaking Derrick Thomas’ single game record of seven sacks set in 1990.
Common sense dictates that Jones’ failure to blossom in his third season as once expected, means that the Steelers will draft another Edge player with one of their first few selections in the 2016 draft, right? Maybe, but probably not. Harrison coming back likely precludes that possibility. 2016 will almost definitely be Harrison’s last year in football. It may also be Jarvis Jones’ last year in Pittsburgh.
If the Steelers do not start developing a new dominant presence on the right side in 2016, that player will not be available in 2017. The next man up after Jones and Harrison? Anthony Chickillo, a player who amounts to a nice project thus far.
Harrison coming back means no additional outside linebackers are signed or drafted in 2016. The team would have the same four outside linebackers in the rotation that they used in 2015. It also means that absent injury to one of those four, Anthony Chickillo will not dress for any games. Being the fifth outside linebacker already means that he isn’t getting many meaningful snaps in practice. Add not playing to that and he will not develop much, if at all.
The fan in me wants Harrison back in 2016. I really believe that James should be the Steelers All Time Sack Leader and believe that had he not embarked on a one year, self imposed exile to Cincinnati, he would already own that record. I also love the way that he has taken the young linebackers under his wing to begin the process of developing the next generation of great Steelers linebackers.
The more rational side of me sees where the team is hurt by Harrison coming back and how that impacts the development of players at a position that needs an infusion of talent.
How do the Steelers feel?
You should take what you read on subjects like what the Steelers think, this close to the draft, with a grain of salt. But, what I have been led to believe is the Steelers like the direction the defensive front seven is taking and have less concern than Steelers Nation does. They netted 48 sacks in 2015, the most they have tallied since 2010. They did so by bringing pressure from different angles all over the defense, not just from the edges.
The indications I have seen lead me to believe that not only do they want Harrison back, they have no intention of bringing in another linebacker to compete on the right side and believe that Jarvis Jones is, at minimum, an adequate starter at right outside linebacker.
Do not accept that as my agreement with their sentiments.
Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP