As the free agency period has come storming in, there has been some speculation over what the Steelers will do with their volatile All-Pro linebacker, James Harrison. If the Steelers want to return to the Super Bowl, they absolutely can not afford to release No. 92.
Verbally, he may be a hate-filled, ranting lunatic. Physically, however, he is the perfect player for Pittsburgh Steelers football. If you listen to Roger Goodell, that may be indicting the Steelers as a dirty team. However, Harrison is not a dirty player, contrary to popular belief.
At least, not dirtier than any other starting NFL linebacker. He does not speak with glee at the thought of breaking someone's fingers at the bottom of the pile, or describe a helmet-to-chin shot as the type of hit you dream about like Bill Romanowski did in a 60 Minutes interview.
No, Harrison simply hits. And he hits hard. His assertion, some would call it an excuse, that the reason he tackles deliver so many concussions is because people duck into them, is an accurate one. It was evident in his teeth-rattling shot against the Browns' Mohamed Massaquoi.
It is an instinctual move for a smaller offensive player to try and duck a hit entirely, or to avoid most of the damage. Most outside linebackers are around 6'4", so the ducking maneuver may work against them. Harrison, however, is short for a linebacker, barely scraping six feet tall, and oftentimes is shorter than the man he is trying to tackle.
With Harrison's build (you could probably stack a set of encyclopedias on his shoulders) if the offensive player tries to duck, there is nothing to hit them with but his helmet or his shoulders. When two players are moving that fast, there is not time to, as Harrison put it, "adjust to his adjustment."
Harrison plays with a massive chip on his massive shoulder. He takes all of the perceived slights and unleashes them on the competition for 60 minutes every Sunday. I am reminded of another athlete who bottled up any disrespect he felt towards him, even inventing some along the way. His name? Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
Like Harrison, Jordan never forgot and never forgave. Not being cut in high school, not being selected third overall, not an assertion that Clyde Drexler could equal his production in the NBA Finals. He made himself the underdog. It is an asset you want to have in an athlete. It makes them keep working after they have earned their accolades and their millions of dollars.
I am not hear to defend any of Harrison's comments. There is no defending them. Simply, there needs to be a realization that those comments are Harrison's only vice. He does not get in trouble with the law (he had one charge in 2008 that was later dismissed) like Santonio Holmes did. He did not even get flagged on the two Browns' hits that resulted in a $75,000 fine. He gets held on virtually every play, but you do not see him in the referees' face.
On the field, he is one of the Steelers' three most important players, right there with Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu. As asinine as his ranting interviews can be, that is not a reason to release a player of his caliber.
Harrison is entitled to Freedom of Speech. If his speech is costing him millions of dollars in endorsements (it is) then so be it. That is Harrison's problem. For now, the Steelers need to continue to unleash their enraged linebacker every Sunday. Tackle hard, and tackle often. Isn't that what you want a linebacker to do?