James Harrison's stay with the Cincinnati Bengals has come to an end after just one season. The team decided to release the veteran linebacker Thursday after talks to keep him in a Bengals uniform failed to satisfy both sides.
The Bengals confirmed the longtime member of the rival Pittsburgh Steelers was heading back to the free-agent market for the second straight offseason:
The move comes after Harrison had sent out a message of thanks to the fans of Cincinnati:
Many thanks to all the @Bengals fans for your support over the last year - I had a great time in Cincinnati.— James Harrison (@jharrison9292) March 13, 2014
Adam Schefter of ESPN reported shortly before the transaction that the sides had spoken about potential options before the decision was made to part ways:
LB James Harrison tweeted goodbye to Cincinnati. Bengals and Harrison have spoken but he has not been released yet. More talks coming.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2014
Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports on what the move will save the Bengals against the cap:
The move saves his $2.03 million cap hit while adding $600k in dead money with an overall cap savings of $1.43 million.
Harrison appeared in 15 games for the Bengals last season. He finished with just 31 combined tackles, two sacks and one interception. Those numbers are obviously well off the pace he set during his peak with the Steelers, when he regularly contributed double-digit sacks.
He had shown signs of decline in his final two seasons in Pittsburgh. He had just 15 sacks over that span, as the burst that made him an effective edge-rusher slowly diminished. Cincinnati hoped he would rediscover it, but that didn't happen.
Still, it's interesting to see the Bengals subtracting instead of adding during free agency. Bill Barnwell of Grantland notes the team is seemingly sitting back while other contenders in the AFC are doing their best to bolster their rosters:
Cincy releasing James Harrison, probably letting Andrew Hawkins walk, missed out on Anthony Collins. Odd lack of urgency for a SB contender.— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) March 13, 2014
Can Harrison still help a defense?
It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Harrison. Much like Cincinnati last year, there are certainly teams around football in need of upgrades to their pass rush. They might hope to catch lightning in a bottle with one more big season from the Kent State product.
That said, nothing from his performances over the past couple seasons would suggest he's going to return to the upper echelon of rush linebackers. At 35, his best days are very likely a thing of the past, relegating him to become more of a role player if teams remain interested.
In the end, the Bengals decided it wasn't worth keeping him around for another season. Still, Harrison has 648 total tackles, 66 sacks and 29 forced fumbles in his 11-year career, so he still offers valuable experience for teams looking for depth at linebacker.