Playing in the AFC North comes with a special set of challenges in the NFL because of how well run the Steelers have been historically. Many Browns fans wish that the Browns had a fraction of the leadership and culture that the Steelers have had as they have won Super Bowls over the years. This culture is often defined by not only drafting and developing players, but also knowing when to say goodbye to them. We aren’t just talking about run of the mill players either. This isn’t like the Browns saying goodbye to Mike Sellers. The Steelers have been willing to wave goodbye to some really talented players over the years. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see what – if anything – the Steelers do with James Harrison who has called Roger Goodell a “crook” and a “devil,” while also ripping teammates Rashard Mendenhall and Ben Roethlisberger in an interview with Men’s Journal.
Oh, and he also decided posing in a menacing fashion brandishing firearms was the image that he wanted to project for himself, so there’s that.
There is no denying James Harrison’s talent. When he isn’t body-slamming unruly Browns fans who are unlawfully running on the field (see below for video) Harrison is a really special talent. It really stinks to have to say that in Browns town about an undrafted free agent player from Kent State. Even that isn’t enough to guarantee Harrison’s future in Pittsburgh if their history is any kind of guidance to what they could do.
Consider Joey Porter, another wildly productive linebacker who was outspoken and competitive to the point of being an absolute menace on the football field. Porter is the guy who was ejected prior to a game against the Browns because he got into a fight with running back William Green. And even after that, Porter had to apologize – kind of – for using a homosexual slur to describe Browns tight end Kellen Winslow. “I didn’t mean to offend anybody but Kellen Winslow. I would just like to say it was a poor choice of words in the comment I made toward Winslow. If I offended anybody, I apologize for that.”
Considering all that, it isn’t much of a surprise that the Steelers eventually cut Porter in an off-season prior to paying him a million dollar roster bonus. It had been a “down” year for Porter too, but to put it in perspective, he still recorded seven sacks in 14 games. Yet the Steelers said goodbye to Porter and never looked back.
Similarly, the Steelers looked brilliant when they allowed Plaxico Burress to go his own way after he got himself into trouble on a gun charge as a member of the New York Giants. Granted, it took a few years for him to get into trouble and nobody could have predicted that it would happen. Still, it just is another example where the Steelers looked good from a personnel standpoint. Finally, there’s Santonio Holmes who was practically given away to the Jets for a 5th round pick after coming off some off-the-field problems and facing a multi-game suspension.
So who knows if James Harrison will get the chance to attempt decapitations in Steelers vs. Browns games this season? The Steelers signed him to a contract that is scheduled to pay him a $900k roster bonus this year in addition to numbers north of $5 – $6 and $7 million in each of the next three years ending after the 2014 season when Harrison will be 36 years old. The story isn’t told yet. I am sure Harrison will have some comments today and over the course of the next month that will help determine what the Steelers will do.
As Browns fans who are largely jealous of the Steelers’ success and culture it will be interesting to watch to see how the Rooney family deals with yet another challenge. Unluckily for us, they’ll likely come out smelling like a rose.