The Steelers cut James Harrison. His accolades are well-documented. 2008 Defensive Player of the Year. Perennial All-Pro selection. Author of one of the biggest plays in Superbowl history. Bane of Roger Goodell. The quintessential Steeler linebacker.
Harrison's release is 100% salary-motivated. Harrison was making a lot of money. Kevin Colbert wanted him to make less. Harrison refused to comply with that, and now he's on the open market. This is exactly what happened to Joey Porter in 2007. With Porter, it was hard to lose the heart of the defense with no certain replacement in waiting. Of course, that's how James Harrison made himself a household name. We weren't expecting it, but Harrison totally justified a controversial move by the front office.
Now, there are a few major differences. For one thing, Harrison was not the heart and soul of the defense. It's hard to pinpoint the player who is. Maybe it's Brett Keisel, maybe it's Troy Polamalu. But James Harrison didn't have the same vocal presence that Joey Porter did. In a likely related observation, this move doesn't come with all that much controversy for fans.
Fans far and wide seem to have acknowledged this as the right thing to do for the organization. It gets the team comfortably under the salary cap with several free agents left to sign and likely some outside help to be brought in on offense.
The problem is that Harrison's departure leaves a void that may not be so easy to fill. Granted, we thought the same thing when Porter was released and Harrison took over. As of right now, the ROLB spot in the Steelers' defense is Jason Worilds' to lose. The means that either Worilds is the next James Harrison, or that the Steelers are going to have to put some teeth back into this defense, and soon. Worilds has battled injuries in his career to date, but he did see substantial time on the field in 2012. If you don't remember that, it's because he wasn't a very disruptive force. That's not acceptable for a 3-4 OLB; your name should be called every few plays for one reason or another. If Worilds can put his injuries behind him and manages to ascend to another level of play, everything will be fine. I'm not putting my money on that happening, though.
Free agency is always an option. Paul Kruger is a UFA out of Baltimore, where they play a similar defense and put a similar emphasis on that position. Shaun Phillips is a consistently underrated player from the San Diego Chargers. Of course, even if the cash-strapped Steelers managed to lure a free agent to Pittsburgh, we all know that isn't how Kevin Colbert runs things. It's an exciting thought, but exciting thoughts don't build championship football teams. Kevin Colbert does, so we should give him the benefit of the doubt for now.
Losing Harrison is a blow to this team and there isn't a player in the NFL (save for maybe Demarcus Ware or Terrell Suggs) who could possibly replace his presence. The Steelers are not working from a position of strength right now; they are going to be depending on LaMarr Woodley to come into camp in shape and ready to play. They are going to depend on Jason Worilds to stay healthy and step up his game. They're going to hope that Chris Carter takes enough of a step forward to qualify as "depth." And you can bet they're going to look at some DE/LBs in the NFL Draft next month.
It's a good thing that football doesn't start for several months yet. The Steelers are going to need that time to figure out what they have at the defense's most important position.no comments