PITTSBURGH -- Unlike in 2014 when James Harrison briefly retired following a one-year stint in Cincinnati, no one, absolutely no one, can accuse the linebacker of having left the game too soon.
On Wednesday, the Steelers re-signed Harrison to a two-year deal worth a reported $3.5 million that will take the 38-year-old through the 2018 season, at which point he’ll be 40.
“We wouldn’t have signed without (a second year). It was an important part of what we were doing,” said Bill Parise, Harrison’s Beaver County-based agent.
“We just want to have options. If you close out your options, you don’t have them. It’s always better to know what you’re doing.”
Given what Harrison showed last season, it’s not entirely impossible that he will serve out the length of his new contract. Harrison led the Steelers linebacking corps with five sacks to go along with 53 tackles and two forced fumbles, while playing 56.12 percent of defensive snaps.
After the Steelers’ loss to Dallas in Week 10, Harrison reclaimed his starting role at right outside linebacker, playing nearly every snap the rest of the season. Not coincidentally, Pittsburgh went on a nine-game winning streak that ended with a loss at New England in the AFC Championship.
Having won two Super Bowls and NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, Harrison has accomplished everything in the league a player can, save for the Hall of Fame, which can’t be ruled out. But Harrison could be making up for lost time. He was not drafted out of Kent State and was cut several times before landing with the Steelers full-time in 2004. Harrison did not start every game in a season until 2007, when he was 29.
“James is an athlete, and athletes want to perform,” Parise said. “That is his motivation.”
Despite rumors of PED use -- he was mentioned in the since-disproven Al-Jazeera report last year -- Harrison’s workout regiment has become the stuff of legend and he is in tremendous shape for anyone regardless of age. But at some point the Steelers will look to draft his long-term replacement. That could come as early as the first round of this year’s draft when the Steelers select 30th overall.
That player likely will replace Jarvis Jones, who the Steelers selected in the first round of the 2013 draft with the original hope of replacing Harrison.
Harrison became the Steelers’ all-time leader in sacks last season and can become just the fifth player in NFL history to record one over the age of 39. That list includes Hall of Famers Reggie White and Bruce Smith, along with Clay Matthews and Jeff Zgonina. Of that group, only Matthews played linebacker.