Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Is This James Harrison's Final Year?

"I do believe that this will be Harrison's last year with Steelers. Either [they] aren't going to [be able to] afford him anymore or his back will get best of him."

That quote from one of the Steelers beat writers has been echoed many times in the last two months. After basically seeing only spot work during minicamps and OTAs, you can understand why this has been a consideration.

That being the case, there has been concern that the Steelers could see a repeat of last season. We touched on this in a previous blog, Deebo does have a couple of different physical issues. His back being the main one.

So, will Harrison be a victim of dollars and sense? Will his back not be able to endure another season of torque and twisting & pressure and pounding? Why don't we start by just looking at both issues concerning The Silverback and go from there?

What the beat writer was basically saying was that Deebo will be a "cap casualty" as of the 2013 season. Well, would that make sense if he rebounds and has a comeback season this year? A season like he had from 2008-2010 when he had double-digit sacks and caused offensive coordinators to stay up until all hours devising ways to stop him. Remember, his doing so this year would be a boon toward staying one more year and for Worilds and Carter, the next two on the depth chart, to continually learn under him, if they're both still in Black & Gold.

Deebo's tutelage could certainly be used with the two young backup linebackers.  Jason Worilds wasn't exactly the epitome of "the standard is the standard" when he substituted for The Silverback. He wasn't a force when rushing the quarterback and finished with only three sacks in seven games. The Silverback had nine in 11 games. He was also suspect in defending the run and needs to learn to be quicker off the snap of the ball and how to shed blockers better.

Chris Carter? All he does is catch touchdowns. Oh, wait...wrong Chris Carter. While Carter is another young option, he still has a lot of learning to do. He also needs to step up after missing eight games last year with a hamstring injury. The Steelers can ill afford to wait past this season for him, else Deebo will be tutoring next year's early round linebacker pick.

I won't say that anyone who thinks The Silverback will be a "cap casualty" in 2013 is crazy, but it isn't a forgone conclusion either. He'll stay until the end of 2013 most likely. The Steelers know his worth. Yes, the Steelers buy low and sell high and have released ones before in a similar position. See: Joey Porter (he's in the news again too). But the dearth of experience behind Deebo will likely affect how the Steelers look at this situation.

What now about the other element in this equation: Harrison's back? As was reported in a previous blog posting, Deebo was first diagnosed with a herniated disc in his lower back in October of 2010 and was presented at that point with the option of surgery, which would've caused him to miss the rest of the 2010 season, or play through it and put off surgery until after the season. The Silverback took the second option and ended up having two total back surgeries, the initial and the follow-up, within two weeks of each other after the Super Bowl loss to the Packers.

This, in If It Ain't Steel's opinion, is what would prevent another sequel from Deebo. (Besides, another sequel without Smokey ain't worth it. I know, bad pun...)

Yes, he's basically only played five seasons, which some would say could elongate his career, but 34 years old is still 34 years old. That's especially so when the 6'0" 245 pounder is routinely going up against men several inches taller and at least 50 pounds heavier.

Yes, he also may be going through an extensive offseason training and therapy program, but the constant car wreck-like pounding that comes with an NFL season will still take its toll. Though he has adequate speed, his game is based on leverage and power. Can he stand two more seasons of such conditions?

While I remain optimistic that he will, knowing how dedicated to training and therapy he is, his surgically repaired back is what should be paid attention to in this scenario. Either as a catalyst to being let go or directly affecting his decision, it will likely be the greater factor as to whether Deebo will make it two more years.