A little more than six months after he officially announced his retirement from the NFL during a ceremony that was attended by Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, Joey Porter, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, and John Norwig, James Harrison authored another comeback with a signature on a two-year contract to continue to do what he has done very well for a long time – play outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Take a look at some of the best photos from the career of Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
In between Sept. 5, 2014 and today, Harrison first came off the couch last Sept. 23 for comeback No. 1 to stabilize a Steelers' situation at linebacker that had become precarious following Jarvis Jones dislocating his wrist, an issue that required surgery and landed the second-year pro on the injured reserve/designated to return list.
His second comeback became official when he met with Steelers officials in Phoenix – site of both the 2015 NFL Owners Meetings and Harrison's offseason training regimen – and signed a contract. Yesterday, in a post on Instagram, Harrison wrote of choosing the Steelers or the Tennessee Titans as his next place of employment. Ultimately, his decision was to return to the Steelers and play in the city where he raises his family.
In the NFL season that fell between these two comebacks, Harrison did a lot more than simply stabilize things at outside linebacker for the Steelers. While getting himself into football shape on the fly, Harrison finished third on the team in sacks, with 5.5, and in pressures, with 14, while playing in only 11 games and starting three. And as has been typical of his career, Harrison showed up big in big games, this time posting multi-sack games in back-to-back home victories over Andrew Luck and the Colts and then Joe Flacco and the Ravens.
Because Harrison had signed just a one-year contract last September, he became an unrestricted free agent on March 10, just a couple of months before his 37th birthday. He rejoins a Steelers team no more settled at outside linebacker than it was when he was at home on his couch last September.
LOOKING AT THE OLBs
Jason Worilds retired. Arthur Moats was re-signed. Jarvis Jones, a No. 1 pick in 2013, is preparing for his third NFL season on the heels of his second having been ruined by a dislocated wrist. Howard Jones and Jordan Zumwalt are back for another crack at making the 53-man roster. Shawn Lemon crossed the border carrying 13 sacks amassed in 18 games last year for the CFL's Calgary Stampeders.
Worilds reportedly gave up football to become more involved with the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Steelers and Worilds had been unable to come to terms on a long-term contract despite working on one during each of the two most-recent offseasons, but there are no indications this retirement is about anything except a man wanting his life to go in a different direction.
Moats left the Buffalo Bills to sign a one-year contract with the Steelers last March 24, and he started 10 games during which he contributed four sacks, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Re-signed on March 9, Moats current contract with the Steelers spans three years.
Jarvis Jones remains the critical component in this group. As a former No. 1 pick, as a former two-time NCAA leader in sacks, as a former 17th overall selection, Jones must perform to expectations for the Steelers defense to be capable of contributing to another playoff run in 2015.
Howard Jones will be trying to build on a promising preseason as an undrafted rookie, when he had three tackles, two fumble recoveries – one of which he returned for a touchdown – and a couple of tackles on special teams. He clearly was not ready for an NFL roster in 2014 after coming from Shepherd College, but a year on the practice squad casts him as an interesting player to watch this offseason.
Zumwalt officially went on the injured reserve list in late August, but his whole training camp seemed to be made up of him standing on the sideline watching practice with his leg wrapped. Listed as an outside linebacker for now, Zumwalt's value most likely would come from him developing into a four-position backup at linebacker and a special teams ace.
Lemon is even more interesting based on the success the Miami Dolphins had when they signed a CFL pass rusher named Cameron Wake in 2009. In the six seasons since, Wake posted 63 sacks, 12 batted passes, and 12 forced fumbles. Lemon (6-foot-1, 235 pounds) will be 27 on Aug. 25, and is getting to the NFL later than Wake. After his college career at Akron ended in 2011, Lemon tried the CFL, but after being cut by both Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, he decided to try Arena Football, and he played for San Jose and Orlando before going to the Indoor Football League to play for Sioux Falls. Then it was back to the CFL in 2012, where Lemon played for Edmonton in 2012 and then for Calgary in 2013-14. He was part of the Grey Cup champion Stampeders in 2014 when he started all 18 games and had 13 sacks, eight forced fumbles, and an interception.
WHERE HARRISON FITS
Since becoming a full-time starter for the same 2007 season in which Mike Tomlin debuted as the Steelers' coach, Harrison has played right outside linebacker. There he followed Joey Porter, now the team's outside linebackers coach, but it's also reasonable to wonder where Harrison might fit into the plans starting in 2015.
Worilds started all 16 games last season on the left side, and Jones has been on the right side since the team drafted him in 2013. There is an element of strength and power required to play left outside linebacker, and a quick glance at the current depth chart would point to Harrison as the player with the best combination of those skills.
Regardless of from where Harrison contributes to the Steelers in 2015, his return continues a career stamping him as one of the franchise's greatest success stories. Beyond the NFL honors Harrison has accumulated after entering the league as an undrafted rookie and subsequently getting cut by three professional teams on two different continents, he forever will be known as a player who was a perfect fit for Steelers fans. Fierce, physical, punishing, always at his best vs. his team's bitterest rival, often at odds with the NFL office, Harrison played the game the way Joe Greene did. And he also turned in two of the iconic moments in franchise history.
The 100-yard pick-six in Super Bowl XLIII, and that Christmas Eve game in 2005 when he body-slammed a Browns fan and held him down for stadium security after the man had run onto the field and taunted the Steelers sideline. Oh, and in 16 career games – three in the postseason – in a Steelers uniform against the Ravens since becoming a full-time starting outside linebacker for the team in 2007, Harrison has 16 sacks, one interception, seven forced fumbles, three passes defensed, and one fumble recovery.
This new contract binds Harrison to the Steelers through the 2016 season, and given his age will be 38 going on 39 at that time, there is some temptation to write that this means Harrison will retire with the Steelers. Based on the previous six months, that temptation is easy to resist.