The James Harrison era in Pittsburgh may be over thanks to a contract dispute.
According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers are likely to release Harrison before the Tuesday 4 p.m. free-agency deadline if he and his agent do not agree to restructure his massive contract.
Pittsburgh needs to be under the salary cap when the deadline rolls around, and Harrison is preventing the franchise from being in compliance. According to Spotrac, he is owed a base salary of $6.5 million next season, not to mention a $7.5 million base in the final year of the contract.
With Harrison turning 35 years old in a few months, it makes sense for the Steelers to target him as a candidate for restructuring.
Harrison has battled injuries over the past few seasons, including a knee issue that caused him to miss the first three games of last season. He improved as the season went on, but given his age, durability is now an issue.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers coaching staff wants Harrison back next year. This also makes plenty of sense because he ranked as the No. 10 overall 3-4 outside linebacker in 2012, according to ProFootballFocus, after notching 70 tackles and six sacks.
That was considered a down year for Harrison, but it wasn't all that unexpected with his ongoing recovery from knee surgery.
Pittsburgh is not exactly known for keeping aging veterans in the fold, nor is it known for overpaying some of its best players—hence the reason receiver Mike Wallace is slated to hit free agency.
When push comes to shove, the Steelers do not give in, which may be bad news for Harrison and his agent. It was reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Harrison is unwilling to take a pay cut, which caused Rotoworld to speculate that he simply wants the cash spread out over a longer term. In essence, he may be looking for more years on his contract.
If Harrison is truly intent on squeezing the Steelers for more years on his contract that already goes through the 2014 season, he is as good as gone.
If Pittsburgh pulls the trigger and ends the Harrison era, it is not a doomsday scenario for the defense. Harrison was solid last year, but not irreplaceable.
Should the Pittsburgh Steelers cut James Harrison?
The Steelers have enough money tied up in the linebacker position as is, thanks to LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons. Even then, it would not be out of the question for the team to use an pick early in the 2013 NFL draft to find Harrison's replacement. In fact, many experts, including Rob Rang over at CBS, have the Steelers adding more pass-rushing talent in the first round.
For Pittsburgh, the situation is extremely simple. If Harrison does not help the team out by slashing his salary, it has to move on from the aging veteran. It seems like yesterday Harrison was returning an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII, but those days are long past.
Pittsburgh needs to look toward the future to remain competitive, and it seems the future as early as next season may not include James Harrison.