PHOENIX -- As loyal as James Harrison is to Dick LeBeau -- the latter talked Bill Cowher out of cutting Harrison in 2004, the year the outside linebacker finally stuck in the NFL -- it could not trump something as simple yet also as powerful.
Hence, the two-year contract that Harrison signed Sunday morning at the Arizona Biltmore. Harrison has been training nearby and the deal that brought him to the swank resort where the NFL is holding its owners meetings elicited a collective sigh of relief from fans who had grown increasingly anxious as the Steelers showed about as much interest in free agency as they would changing their colors to black and purple.
Harrison is not a game changer at outside linebacker. Not at the age of 37, which he turns in May.
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJames Harrison will finish his career in Pittsburgh, where it started in 2004.
But the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is still a difference maker even at his advanced football age. And the Steelers did not have a better option unless they wanted to pick an outside linebacker prospect early in the draft and hope he can play right away.
The Steelers can still take an outside linebacker prospect early in the draft and have him learn from Harrison, who drew raves from general manager Kevin Colbert for embracing a mentor role at this stage of his career.
Harrison, meanwhile, gets to finish his career where it started, finish it where he and his family are rooted and finish it with a team that is coming off an 11-win season, and can contend for the Super Bowl in 2015 if it some things fall into place on defense.
The Tennessee Titans, coming off a two-win seasons, could really only offer the chance to play for LeBeau, the Steelers' former defensive coordinator, as they pursued Harrison.
“I always thought that if James would play again after he came back this year I always thought he’d finish his career with us,” Colbert said Sunday at the NFL owners meetings. “I think he just had a deep admiration for coach LeBeau and I think he wanted to respect that because he felt that coach LeBeau did so much for him and his career.”
That Harrison will finish his career with the Steelers won’t stop some fans from still wanting to cancel the 2015 season because of questions that remain at outside linebacker and persist at cornerback.
But the Steelers could not have helped themselves any more at outside linebacker than they did by bringing back Harrison.
And in the end it made too much sense for both sides not to finish what they started more than a decade ago when Harrison made the Steelers for good on his fourth attempt.