I know it sounds crazy. I know it is not what people want to hear. I know it is a reality that Steelers fans are going to have to start thinking about.
Is it time for the Pittsburgh Steelers to part ways with James Farrior?
James Farrior was selected with the eighth pick in the 1997 NFL Draft by the New York Jets. It was believed that he was going to be the cornerstone of the Jets defense. Things didn't work out quite so well for Farrior in New York, and he was ready to be out of New York by the conclusion of his fifth season.
The Jets were very similar in their feelings towards Farrior, and did not make a serious push to bring him back when his contract was up. In his five years with the Jets, Farrior broke the 100 tackle mark one time. That was 142 in 2001.
While the Jets allowed Farrior to leave, the Steelers were more than happy to make him one of their VERY few free agent signings.
After a slow start in Pittsburgh, Farrior became the key to the Steelers defense. Only twice in the last seven years, has Farrior not had over 100 tackles. He has been the leader of a Steelers linebacking unit that is known across the NFL as one of the best units in football.
After the 2008 season, a decision needed to be made in Pittsburgh. Who would the Steelers keep? Would it be the older, better player in Farrior, or the younger, faster Larry Foote?
The other ILB on the Steelers roster was Lawrence Timmons, who was growing into his own, and, as a former first round pick, was expected to be starting in the middle of the field, where he was drafted to play.
Even though Timmons has not grown into the elite status as LaMarr Woodley (taken in the second round of the same draft as Timmons), Timmons was showing he was the future of the position. He had considerably more speed, and strength than both Foote and Farrior.
The decision had to be made, and the Steelers chose to keep Farrior and allow Foote to leave and sign with his home town Detroit Lions. The Steelers then signed Farrior to a five-year contract extension during training camp.
The surprising part of all of this, at least to me, was that the Steelers NORMALLY don't keep the older player, just because of what he had done for them in the past. Over the course of the last 15 years, there were MANY great Steelers linebackers that were shown the door, even though many of the fans believed that they still had a lot of gas left in the tank.
Greg Lloyd, Jason Gildon, Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Earl Holmes, Joey Porter, and many others, were all getting older, but were still considered great players when the Steelers decided to part ways with them. In almost every one of those cases, I was worried that the Steelers were making a mistake by letting those players go.
All of them still ranked near the top of the NFL in tackles when the Steelers let them go. And all of them went to new teams, and all of them played in a similar way: Nowhere NEAR as good as they were in Pittsburgh.
Sure, in a lot of those instances, it is because the teams defenses were not as good. Many times, they were in a different type of defense. But the results were still the same. They were slower, and not as dominant as they were in Pittsburgh.
Had the Steelers decided in 2008 that they were going to keep Foote, and let Farrior leave, everyone would have though the same thing about Farrior with another club, as they did about the list of men above, that faltered after they left the Black and Gold. They were just not as good as they were.
The reality is, the Pittsburgh Steelers are known as Linebacker University. They take players later in the draft, groom them to become insane on the field, unleash them in their third or fourth season, they dominate the league for five to ten years, and then they let them go, because there is a new group of players waiting to take their turn.
It is time for the Steelers to part ways with the OBVIOUSLY slowed down James Farrior. He was an amazing player for the Steelers while he has been here, but it is time for him to move on. The Steelers have Keyaron Fox, who is ready to be the main back up to Timmons and Foote, and Stevenson Sylvester being groomed to be the next in line of great ones.
The Steelers have NEVER kept the older, slower players at the expense of bringing in the future animals, and by keeping James Farrior on the roster, that is EXACTLY what they will be doing.
I loved Farrior when he was at the top of his game, but the down hill slide started at the end of 2008. In life, you don't compound a mistake by not acknowledging it, and when the Steelers brought back Larry Foote, that is exactly what they did.