Steelers 2015 Unsigned Free Agents: LB James Harrison

The Pittsburgh Steelers and linebacker James Harrison have a big decision to make this spring. After parting ways two offseasons ago, spending a year being ineffective for the Cincinnati Bengals, and having an actual retirement press conference with the Steelers Harrison was brought in “from off of the couch” in late September this season when Jarvis Jones sustained a wrist injury.

He said at the time that it would be a “one and done” but sounded more inclined to consider returning once the season officially ended. The Steelers are faced with the outside linebacker position being their thinnest position this offseason with only Jones under contract for 2015.

Harrison came back to the Steelers in Week 4 but it took him about four games to get into “game form” and in Week 8 against the Colts, Harrison broke out with 2 of his 5 ½ sacks for the season. He had to sit out two games due to injury late in the season as well.

It’s no secret that Harrison keeps himself in amazing shape but he will turn 37 before the 2015 season begins. His contribution to the team was definitely significant, but can it be expected going forward? With the new era of Steelers defense officially being ushered in with the promotion of Keith Butler over Dick LeBeau, is this the year the Steelers really get younger on defense?

LeBeau was long criticized for his reluctance to play rookies on defense, but Butler has been a part of that same coaching staff that would easily bring back veterans like Harrison and Brett Keisel with the plan of having them fill in in spots but be overcome by the temptation to put them out on the field over the younger guys.

It’s safe to say that the Steelers won’t have to spend a ton of money to keep Harrison for another contract year. This signing would hardly be about money. It would be about whether or not James can and is willing to contribute positively to the team going forward, realistically.

The loyal, diehard Steelers fans don’t want to say goodbye to the players we’ve grown to love so much like James Harrison. It was awful to see him wearing a Bengals jersey and even worse to see him not do well there because he didn’t fit into their system.

The Steelers defense is in a crossroads of sorts this offseason. While Butler coached under LeBeau he will still want to put his own stamp on the defense and the team cannot waste the talent they have on the offensive side of the ball right now on a rebuilding or retooling year or two for the defense. The defense has to improve for the Steelers to build on the success they had in 2014, there’s no room for error.

There’s also no room for sentimentality. It’s just unrealistic to expect a 37-year old James Harrison to provide the contributions the Steelers would need out of him to justify a roster spot for an entire season. While he did contribute in the short time he returned in 2014, I think ultimately it will be the “one and done” year he said it would be when he came back.

What do you think Steeler Nation? Does James Harrison play another year for the Steelers?