ShareThis Page

Ex-Steelers OLB James Harrison signs one-year deal with Patriots

Chris Adamski
| Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017, 2:57 p.m.
Steelers linebacker James Harrison warms up before a game against the Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker James Harrison warms up before a game against the Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Steelers linebacker James Harrison leaves the field after a 20-15 victory over the Lions Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, at Ford Field in Detroit.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker James Harrison leaves the field after a 20-15 victory over the Lions Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, at Ford Field in Detroit.

James Harrison didn't set out to leave the Steelers and join one of their biggest rivals, his agent said Tuesday.

In the end, however, Harrison wasn't given the choice.

Three days after the Steelers released their career leader in sacks and two-time team MVP, Harrison signed with the New England Patriots.

"Since (the Steelers) made a call to me about his release, from that time to this time, I have not spoken to them at all," Bill Parise said early Tuesday evening, less than an hour after the Patriots announced the signing of his client to a one-year contract.

While coach Mike Tomlin stood at a podium Tuesday afternoon during his weekly news conference and did little to quell speculation the Steelers were interested in bringing back the 39-year-old Harrison after he cleared waivers, Harrison already was en route to Foxborough, Mass., to meet with Patriots brass.

New England coach Bill Belichick first spoke with the 15-year veteran Monday.

"The Patriots are very methodical about how they do things and the way they make decisions," Parise said.

Finally... A teammate that's older than me! @tombrady

A post shared by James Harrison (@jhharrison92) on

With a need at edge rusher, New England decided a marriage with Harrison made sense, particularly considering two of their projected opponents in the AFC playoffs are the Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs.

Harrison traditionally has thrived against tall offensive tackles, and Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is 6-foot-9. Harrison has 31⁄2 sacks in his past five games against Kansas City and their 6-7 left tackle, Eric Fisher. The most recent of those came Oct. 15 on the Chiefs' second-to-last snap of the game, helping to seal a Steelers road victory.

But that would be the final of his 801⁄2 sacks as a Steeler. Over 15 regular-season weeks with the Steelers in 2017, Harrison played 40 snaps. He was inactive for six of the team's 14 games before his release. He dressed but did not play in three others.

"His goal was to play football, not to sit somewhere," Parise said. "I think James was very, very agreeable, obviously, to being a part-time player. That wasn't an issue. It's just that the way it ended up, he wasn't playing at all."

Less than two months after Harrison and the Steelers agreed on a two-year, $3.5 million extension, the Steelers drafted T.J. Watt. Watt was given the starting right outside linebacker spot from Day 1 of training camp and did not relinquish it. And it was Anthony Chickillo — not Harrison — who emerged as Watt's backup.

"I think if we all had our druthers, we would rather James stayed in Pittsburgh and played in a role that he was led to believe he'd be playing in," Parise said. "We'd all rather have not moved anywhere, but that's not the way the NFL works."

So instead, the Steelers — and their fans — face the possibility that, come the AFC championship game late next month (the earliest the Steelers and Patriots could next meet), Harrison will be lined up and aiming for Ben Roethlisberger.

An even more difficult sight for Steelers fans to stomach might be the photo Harrison posted to his verified Instagram account not long after the signing became official: a selfie with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady with the caption, "Finally... A teammate that's older than me!"

Harrison and the 40-year-old Brady are the NFL's oldest players on defense and offense, respectively.

The signing of Harrison was in character for a Patriots franchise that often acquires older veterans released by other teams at midseason. This year, they made similar moves by bringing in tight end Marcellus Bennett and receiver Kenny Britt.

Harrison is expected to play in Sunday's regular-season finale against the New York Jets.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me