Pittsburgh Steelers stalwart linebacker James Harrison was released after nine seasons and 64 sacks with the team. He recorded six quarterback takedowns in 13 games last season—while playing hurt—suggesting that the 34-year-old isn’t really slowing down; he was a cap casualty.
The former undrafted player out of Kent State recorded three double-digit sack seasons, including a 16-sack campaign that garnered him Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008. That was his first 10-plus sack year; all three of them came after his 30th birthday.
Harrison was a late bloomer in terms of raw numbers: Despite playing at least 11 games in each of his NFL seasons, 51.5 of his career sacks (80.5 percent) and 22 of his 29 forced fumbles (75.9 percent) were produced since he turned 30.
It would be a mistake for the NFL to write him off at this stage of his career simply because of the numbers on his birth certificate. He’s still been productive and could continue to thrive in a part-time pass-rushing role.
Kansas City has been aggressively making moves this offseason prior to the free-agent market opening in earnest. New general manager John Dorsey has, among other acquisitions and cuts, signed jettisoned Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson to a three-year deal.
Unless the Chiefs make Tamba Hali a cap casualty of their own, Harrison may not be a projected starter in Kansas City. The 29-year-old rattled off nine sacks in 2012, his fourth consecutive season with at least 8.5. He’s missed two of a possible 112 regular-season games for the Chiefs. Justin Houston has played all 32 games since he came into the league in 2011. The 24-year-old led the team with 10 sacks last season, totaling 15.5 in his two-year career.
The duo combined for 19 sacks on a league-worst 2-14 squad that spent an inordinate amount of time without a lead. That’s not supposed to happen. It’s a testament of how skilled those guys are as pass-rushers.
Houston and Hali would be a fine—albeit expensive, in Hali’s case—starting tandem of outside linebackers, but the Chiefs would be wise to explore whether Harrison is interested in playing limited snaps in 2013.
If Harrison can’t secure a starting gig somewhere in the league, he might just say yes.
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