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Colin Dunlap: Harrison Release The Right Call

By Colin Dunlap - CBS Pittsburgh
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James Harrison

(Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

dunlap-head-shot Colin Dunlap
Weeknights, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Colin grew up in Sharpsburg and...
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James Harrison is out of a job.

And the Steelers are better for it.

James Harrison played for the Steelers for a decade.

And the Steelers are better for it.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other; one can find reason to celebrate both — and that’s probably the most logical way to look at everything involving the now former Steelers linebacker.

Harrison, who will be 35 in May, was released by the organization on Saturday after unsuccessfully attempting to work out a pay cut on a 2013 salary of $6.57 million.

It truly was time to go.

Harrison, the former NFL defensive player of the year and five-time Pro Bowl performer had become a shell of his former self, inadequate for much of the first half of last season. And, even as his play spiked at the tail end of the Steelers’ disappointing 2012 campaign, there was far from any indication that he would ever revert to anywhere in the vicinity of what he was in 2008. That year, Harrison was the league’s defensive player of the year as he accumulated 16 sacks and struck fear in opposing offenses like few have in the history of professional football.

Quite simply, Harrison was dominant.

That’s reality.

But the emphasis is on the word “was.”

The National Football League, with a salary cap and non-guaranteed contracts, is the league in which management can least afford to keep a player around one second beyond their true worth. Merely, you ride that horse until you just can’t ride them anymore. Then, you move on to another horse.

Perhaps that is cut throat, perhaps such an approach is unpleasant or cold, but the Steelers shouldn’t be in the business of wistful nostalgia or taking care of veterans because of what a player did in the past. No, the Steelers should be in the business of, well, good business.

This was just business. And good business.

But there is a risk involved, albeit from this vantage a risk well worth taking – which is what makes putting Harrison on the unemployment line the right call. The Steelers must now entrust Jason Worilds, who is considerably younger (24) and makes considerably less (just under $1M) than Harrison. For those two factors, and the growth in Worilds’ game that saw him accrue five sacks last season in limited action, taking a chance on him over the overpaid and over-the-hill Harrison makes more than a ton of sense.

Soon after Harrison was released, he Tweeted: “It’s been a great run, but all good things must come to an end. Thank you Steelers Nation, I will miss you.”

The feeling is mutual.

Steelers fans will miss all that James Harrison did here.

What they wouldn’t have wanted to see, however, was Harrison getting one day older in that Steelers uniform.

Remember when a timeworn Hines Ward made it through the 2011 season on fumes when he probably shouldn’t have been out there? When he served little to no purpose?

Perhaps the Steelers learned from that situation.

Make no mistake, it is perfectly fine to do both today — celebrate what James Harrison was to this franchise, but also celebrate that releasing him was the correct move.

Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10p-2a on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com.

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