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GM: Steelers anticipate LB Harrison will be back

| Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, 3:00 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker James Harrison is not fooled on a direct snap to Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman in the first quarter of their AFC divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Denver.

The Steelers want James Harrison back — general manager Kevin Colbert said as much Tuesday — and the outside linebacker is under contract for one more year and already has begun offseason training.

It all points to one thing: James Harrison will return in 2016.

“I guess we will be there,” said Harrison's agent, Bill Parise. “This is not an announcement or anything like that, but we are under contract, and everything is going forward.”

Harrison, 37, was non-committal following the season about returning for a 14th season. He added some uncertainty Tuesday evening when he tweeted, “Hold up. It's 1 thing to want to come back but it's another to get the body back to where it needs to be. We'll see.”

Harrison said following a season-ending loss to the Broncos in the divisional playoff game that his decision to return would depend on his two young children and how he felt.

“We anticipate that he wants to continue playing,” Colbert said. “I wouldn't see any reasons why we wouldn't want to have James here.”

The Steelers brought back Harrison in March on a two-year deal, in part because of his ability, but also to be a mentor.

The Steelers purged a number of veterans from their defense, including Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel, and wanted to have a role model for a young defensive unit that was in transition, not only with personnel but also with coaching.

Longtime defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was not retained, and Keith Butler was put in charge of turning around a sagging defense.

“James came back and did a great job not only on the field, but he was really a great mentor to our younger players, and not only on the outside linebackers but everybody,” Colbert said. “He inspired those guys and the way he goes about his business every day. When he is in the building, he teaches those guys how to be pros without doing it intentionally.”

Harrison also proved to be valuable on the field.

Despite the Steelers wanting to limit his snap counts, Harrison played in 55.1 percent of the team's defensive snaps, the most of any other outside linebacker, including first-rounders Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree.

Harrison finished with five sacks in the regular season and added two more in the playoffs. With a base salary last season of $1.25 million ($1.5 million against the salary cap), Harrison could be considered a bargain.

Harrison turns 38 in May, and if he returns, he would be the oldest defensive player in the league.

A return for a 13th season with the Steelers — he played one season with the Bengals — gives Harrison a legitimate chance to become the team's all-time sack leader. Jason Gildon is the leader with 77. Harrison has 74.5.

Harrison was an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2002. He toiled on and off the Steelers roster before becoming a starter in 2007. Harrison made five straight Pro Bowls. He twice was named a first-team All-Pro and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 after a 16-sack season.

“Everybody is very positive for next year, and I know he already talked to (Mike) Tomlin,” Parise said. “We are just moving on.”

Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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