It looks like James Harrison will be finishing his career in black and gold for sure this time. Announced Sunday afternoon was the signing of the 37-year-old linebacker to a two-year contact.
There are a couple of takeaways here. First: The Steelers are completely barren at outside linebacker. Sunday morning, the depth chart consisted of Arthur Moats, Jarvis Jones, and an old Greg Lloyd jersey. Signing James Harrison doesn’t vastly improve the defense as much as it gives them enough players to field one in training camp.
Now, at 37 years old, I don’t think anyone is expecting Harrison to play every snap for 16+ games. He’ll likely be a pass-rushing specialist in nickel defenses. Which brings us to our second point: The Steelers are still in desperate need of a pass rusher.
Given that the position wasn’t addressed in free agency, the Steelers are all but guaranteed to go linebacker/cornerback in the first two rounds of the draft. And that’s an incredible gamble, as we’ve seen with Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier, neither of whom have made an impact thus far. Even if you get a starting combination of the three outside backers currently on the roster, a rookie is going to have to play frequently. But that ties into the real good news about James Harrison being back: The coaching staff can talk to any young guy, point at Harrison, and say “do what he does.”
If Jarvis Jones were smart, he’d be following Harrison around every single day. Harrison has kept his notoriously physical form in unbelievable shape throughout his career, including a brief retirement. The way he played at age 36 for the Steelers shows that he knows how to take care of his body, and how to prepare for football. Harrison may not be a traditional role model for kids out there, but as far as a player you want your linebackers to emulate? It’s hard to find a better case.
There’s still a lot of work to do for this Steeler team, but at least one question mark is off the board now.