Unable to come to an agreement on a contract restructure, the Steelers released former NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison Saturday.
Harrison announced the move on his Twitter feed moments before the Steelers released a statement.
“It’s been a great run but all good things must come to an end,” Harrison tweeted. “Thank you Steelers Nation. I will miss you all!”
The release of Harrison was not unexpected. The Steelers spent several days speaking with the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker’s agent in an attempt to lessen his salary cap number for 2013 – just over $10 million, of which $6.57 million is base salary.
Harrison, 34, missed three games in 2012 after having a surgical procedure on his knee in August and his quarterback sack total slip to just six, his fewest since 2006.
By releasing Harrison, the Steelers save $5.1 million against their 2013 salary cap. All NFL teams must be under the salary cap of $123.9 million by Tuesday afternoon.
“James has been an integral part of our success during his years in Pittsburgh and has helped us win two Lombardi trophies during that time,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “We appreciate all of his efforts and wish him the best.”
Harrison, who was named the NFL’s best defender in 2008 when he recorded a team-record 16 sacks, finishes his career in Pittsburgh with 64 sacks, which ranks fourth on the franchise’s all-time list.
Not bad for a player who was signed by the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2002 and released three times. The third re-signing came after Harrison spent a season on the practice squad of AFC North rival Baltimore before being released.
Harrison finally stuck with the Steelers for good in 2004, serving as a special teams player and reserve linebacker behind starters Clark Haggans and Joey Porter.
When head coach Mike Tomlin took over for Bill Cowher in 2007, one of his first moves was to release Porter in a salary cap-related move and insert Harrison into the starting lineup.
“James has played a major role in the success of this organization during his time in Pittsburgh,” Tomlin said. “I appreciate everything he has done in my six years as head coach.”
Harrison helped the Steelers to three Super Bowls, including a pair of victories, and made perhaps the greatest play in Super Bowl history in 2009 when he intercepted a Kurt Warner pass at the goal line and returned it for a touchdown on the final play of the first half in Pittsburgh’s victory over Arizona.
Harrison’s stay with Pittsburgh was also marked by violent play, both on and off the field.
In March of 2008, he was arrested for simple assault and criminal mischief in a domestic incident, though charges were later dropped.
On the field, he became the central figure in the NFL’s efforts to legislate helmet-to-helmet hits out of the game, drawing $120,000 in fines and a one-game suspension in 2011 for a hit on Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy.
Harrison never hid his displeasure with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, calling him a “crook” and “devil” in an interview with a national magazine.
With Harrison gone, the Steelers will likely turn to former second-round draft pick Jason Worilds as a replacement. Worilds had five sacks last season while subbing for Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
Harrison’s release comes a week after the Steelers restructured the contracts of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and linebacker Lawrence Timmons to clear salary cap space.
The Steelers have tendered offers to restricted free-agent nose tackle Steve McLendon, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. Each were tendered at the lowest level, meaning the Steelers will receive a third-round draft pick in return for Sanders, a sixth-round pick for Dwyer and no compensation for McLendon or Redman if they sign an offer sheet with another team and the Steelers declined to match.
The Steelers did not tender an offer to linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, meaning he will become an unrestricted free agent Tuesday.