Former Steelers linebacker James Harrison is headed down the Ohio River to continue his career, agreeing to a two-year deal with the AFC North-rival Cincinnati Bengals.
It won’t be long before he gets his first chance to show Pittsburgh what it’s missing.
The Bengals play their first home game next season on Monday night, Sept. 16 against the Steelers, the team they knocked out of playoff competition last year. Harrison, who turns 35 in May, got used to making deep runs in the playoffs with Pittsburgh.
Now, he’s going to get a chance to try to get the Bengals their first playoff victory since 1990. Cincinnati has made the playoffs each of the last two seasons as a wild-card team, losing to Houston in the first round both times.
Agent Bill Parise said Harrison has passed a physical and all details of a two-year deal had been worked out on Friday evening. The Bengals didn’t confirm the deal because it hadn’t been signed. Parise said Harrison was working out in Arizona and would be in Cincinnati the second week of May to start working out with his new team.
Harrison tweeted: “Whodey!!!!!!!!!!! Hello Cincinnati!!!!”
The 2008 Defensive Player of the Year was a casualty of Pittsburgh’s move to get under the salary cap. The Steelers and Parise negotiated but couldn’t reach a deal on a reworked contract. Harrison was entering the final two years of a $51 million extension signed in 2009.
He missed the first three games last season with a knee injury, but finished with six sacks – tied for the team lead – as the Steelers finished No. 1 in defense for the fourth time since Harrison became a starter in their 3-4 alignment.
He moves to a defense that finished sixth last season and lines up in a 4-3. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga signed a new deal last month, keeping one of the Bengals’ captains.
When he signs his deal, Harrison will have been under contract with three of the AFC North’s four teams. An undrafted free agent in 2002, Harrison played two seasons on the practice squad before he was signed by the Baltimore Ravens. They let him go, and he ended up back in Pittsburgh.
He helped the Steelers win the Super Bowl in 2006 and was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. He helped Pittsburgh win another Super Bowl that season by returning Kurt Warner’s pass 100 yards for a touchdown at the end of the first half of a 27-23 victory.
His knack for big plays and his violent hits became a hallmark of the Steelers defense. He complained that he was being unfairly targeted for fines by Roger Goodell, and apologized for calling the commissioner a “crook” and a “devil” during an interview with Men’s Journal in early 2011.
He was suspended for a game late in the 2011 season after his helmet hit Browns quarterback Colt McCoy in the facemask. He missed all of training camp last year with a knee injury and said he’d endured a dozen concussions during the course of his career.
The Steelers will replace Harrison with 24-year-old Jason Worilds, who had five sacks in limited playing time last season.