The Pittsburgh Steelers released James Harrison to clear a roster spot for offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert on Saturday. Tuesday, the Steelers' all-time sacks leader visited the New England Patriots, according to ESPN’s Field Yates.
Harrison signed with the Patriots soon after.
Why is his move to the Patriots meaningful?
Despite his lack of playing time this season, Harrison proved that he still has gas left in the tank last season. He recorded five sacks in 2016, which was a team high. The five-time Pro Bowler accumulated 570 tackles and 82.5 sacks in his career, and he could end up in Canton once he decides to hang his cleats up. But Harrison hasn’t shown signs that he’s ready to retire.
Harrison's veteran presence could bolster the Pats’ defense. He knows what it feels like to reach a Super Bowl and win it, much like New England does. In fact, Harrison recorded an eye-popping 100-yard pick-six in Super Bowl XLIII — which helped Pittsburgh collect its sixth Super Bowl in franchise history. You normally don't hear of an established player like Harrison joining a new team at the end of the season, but this could be a solid pickup for the Patriots. This is what they do.
Harrison is just happy that he’s not the oldest guy on the roster.
Bill Belichick seemed happy with the move:
Why was Harrison out of Pittsburgh in the first place?
When the Steelers drafted rookie linebacker T.J. Watt in the first round in the 2017 NFL draft, many knew 39-year-old Harrison wouldn't see the field much. Steelers linebacker coach Joey Porter told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Harrison would serve as the team's "safety net" and "relief pitcher." Well, the Steelers stuck to their word.
But Harrison said that wasn’t what he had in mind.
Harrison appeared in five games and only played 40 snaps. He last played against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14, only registering 11 snaps. Before that game, though, Harrison hadn’t played since Week 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Watt is having a solid rookie season, collecting 44 tackles and six sacks heading into Week 16. So, the Steelers felt they didn't need Harrison's services any longer and decided to part ways with him. He immediately hit waivers, but NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that the two-time All-Pro could return to the Steelers sooner than later.
The #Steelers cutting James Harrison makes sense. Probably the least-likely player to get claimed off waivers. Could return on Monday night— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 23, 2017
So far, this hasn’t been the case. But the Patriots have been known to get every last bit out of players they welcome. And Harrison may get a chance to face his former team this postseason.