Steelers release James Harrison

Al Bello

Pittsburgh has released one of its all-time best defensive players in a salary-cutting move. Harrison will likely receive a fair amount of attention on the free agent market.

The Steelers have released James Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowl selection and 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, in a salary cap move just before the start of free agency.

Harrison was owed $6.57 million this season, and with the cap-strapped Steelers looking to get younger, Harrison was more of a luxury than a necessity.

It almost didn't end this way, though. Reports indicated the two sides met through Friday in an effort to work out a deal for the 2013 season, but it wasn't to be.

Harrison was undrafted out of Kent State University in 2002, and was released by both Pittsburgh and Baltimore before ending up back with the Steelers in 2004 due to an injury to outside linebacker Clark Haggans.

Harrison ended up making the roster, and made his first start in 2004, in a game against Cleveland. Harrison replaced Joey Porter, who was ejected after he and Browns running back William Green got in a brawl before the game started.

He made even bigger waves the following season when, in Cleveland, he body-slammed a drunken Browns fan who had run onto the field.

He earned two nicknames during his early years; "Silverback" from former coach Bill Cowher due to his aggressive, tough nature, and "Deebo," by his teammates, after the character from the movie "Friday."

Two years later, Harrison would force the free agent Porter out of Pittsburgh. Starting regularly for the first time, Harrison ended up the team's MVP, and put together arguably the best individual defensive performance in team history in a Monday Night game against Baltimore.

Harrison racked up 10 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception, as the Steelers throttled the Ravens, 38-7. His 2008 season was even better, becoming the Steelers' first Defensive Player of the Year since Rod Woodson in 1993. He set the team record with 16 sacks, and helped Pittsburgh win Super Bowl XLIII with a 100-yard interception return touchdown at the end of the first half.

Harrison's legacy grew even more in 2010 when two hits on Browns receivers Josh Cribbs (a teammate at Kent State) and Mohamed Massaquoi drew $75,000 in fines (and no flags) from the league in Week 5 of the 2010 season.

Harrison immediately became the prime target for the league's safety agenda, hitting him with the largest of several fines given that afternoon. Those fines would eventually be brought down to $50,000, but after a hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy in 2011, he was suspended for one game — costing him $73,529 (ironically, less than he was fined for the hits against Massaquoi and Cribbs one season earlier).

He also caused a stir after making comments to Men's Journal about his distaste for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

His particular flavor of aggressive drama aside, Harrison racked up 64 sacks in 130 games, along with 29 forced fumbles.

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