The biggest news out of the Steelers in the weeks prior to the draft was the successful resigning of James Harrison to a big contract. I was a little bit surprised at first how much the Steelers were willing to pay James Harrison in free agency considering his age and because of how successful they have been in developing linebackers under Dick Lebeau.
The big negative is that they will now almost surely have to let a couple of their key players with a year left on their contracts play somewhere else after this season.
The Steelers top brass clearly felt he was a special player and that he deserved to be rewarded for playing so hard and so well under his previous contract. I think they are right.
He is certainly worth a lot more than players who will be payed comparatively, or better, who will be drafted within the next 24 hours. His signed a $51.75 million, six-year contract.
Considering a quarterback (Matthew Stafford) who has never played a down in the NFL and may very well be a bust was just guaranteed $41.7 million as part of a six-year contract worth $72-78 million, that sounds like a real bargain.
Also consider that Aaron Curry, an unproven linebacker with a ton of potential, will likely be payed more than Harrison if he is drafted in the top five picks as projected. Some doubt that Curry will even be an effective pass rusher. With that in mind, Harrison is certainly worth what he is being payed.
With Harrison and Lamarr Woodley attacking from the outsides, the Steelers have the best pass rushing duo in football. Before these two are done, they will be remembered as one of the greatest pass rushing duos in the history of the game.
Watching these two guys play reminds me a little bit of the infamous New York Sack Exchange of the early 80s when Jets' defensive ends Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko seemed to take turns tormenting quarterbacks. But the duo of Woodley and Harrison, rushing from the linebacker position, might be even better.
Harrison is always thinking big play. He doesn't just go for the sack. Instead, he literally attacks the ball. If the quarterback somehow manages to cover the ball up, he defaults to just mauling the quarterback.
His game changing play in the Super Bowl wasn't an aberration. He makes game changing plays on a regular basis.
And Woodley is proving to be a quick understudy. He looks like he may be a hall of fame caliber talent. He also is perfecting the strip sack.
Think about how many games these two guys literally took over this past year and how often they combined for a big play. One of the most memorable was the sack by Harrison on Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco in Steelers-Ravens Part I, which was scooped up by Woodley and returned for a touchdown resutling in a comlete momentum shift.
In almost all of the Steelers' big wins, this duo played a huge part. The Steelers' secondary, which was arguably their best since at least the famed 1970s squads, benefitted from the speed with which these two close on the quarterback. With the loss of McFadden, that will again be a key next season.
Because of these guys, I've taken to regular irrational outbursts at the TV as I yell "They're being held!" or "Call it!" at oblivious refs.
Alas, they rarely hear me. I can't quite figure out why refs refuse to call holds on these two. They are held on play after play, with many of those holds turning into muggings. But, they almost never call it, although they finally did reach for their flags a few times during the Super Bowl. I guess they figure that it is unfair that offensive linemen have to block both these guys and are willing to cut them a little slack...sometimes a lot of slack.
Harrison and Woodley still have youth on their side. Woodley has only played two seasons. That is hard to believe considering he has eight sacks in only four playoff games. Harrison is a bit older (31) but does not have that much wear and tear on his body considering he has only started at linebacker for two years after replacing Joey Porter in 2007.
Its hard to believe that he made his initial mark in the league as a special teams terror. These guys will likely form one of the most feared pash rushing pairs in the league for at least five years.
One of my favorite things about watching the 2008 Steelers was watching those two guys torment offensive linemen and quarterbacks. Even with Woodley tiring as the season wore on (until the playoffs), they were always a force to be reckoned with and they will likely only get better next year.
With the resigning of Harrison to a long-term deal, we will likely see a lot more of that in the years ahead. Hopefully the can draft and start to develop some young depth on the defensive line so these guys can continue to dominate for many years to come.