James Harrison didn’t speak with New England media members Wednesday after his first Patriots practice, but he did have a chat with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Gerry Dulac.
In that conversation, Harrison revealed that he asked the Pittsburgh Steelers three times to release him before they finally obliged this past weekend.
Why? Because he was unhappy with his playing time. After leading the Steelers in sacks in 2016, the 39-year-old outside linebacker was active for just five of Pittsburgh’s first 14 games this season, logging a grand total of 40 defensive snaps.
“I have to assume when they say you’re going to get 25 percent of the snaps and you get 25, safe to say things didn’t go as planned,” Harrison, who was in his 14th season with the Steelers and his 15th in the NFL, told Dulac.
“After the first week of the season, I said to them, it’s clear you want to play your younger guys and I understand, so why don’t you release me. You go on your way and I’ll go on mine. They said, ‘No, no, no, we got a role for you.’ ”
The straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, was Harrison’s DNP in Pittsburgh’s 27-24 loss to the Patriots, which came six days before the Steelers cut him loose.
“If I didn’t play in the biggest game of the year, that told me I wouldn’t get any more snaps,” he told Dulac. “So all that lip service you gave me before didn’t matter.”
After his release, Harrison said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told him to stay ready in case one of Pittsburgh’s other edge rushers suffered an injury, but he wasn’t interested in waiting. After conferring with former teammate and current Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter and feeling “a little hesitation” about the idea of joining a rival, he ultimately decided Tuesday to sign with the Patriots.
“I can’t sit there on ‘ifs’,’ and I’m not playing,” Harrison told Dulac. “I wasn’t upset, I’m not mad, it’s a business. But at the end of the day, I have to make a business decision. I cleared waivers, New England had called and said they wanted me to come up and we talked. At 4:30 that afternoon, I flew to Boston and there was no communication from the Steelers about anything.”
Harrison said he expects to make his Patriots debut Sunday against the New York Jets. He is scheduled to address the New England media for the first time Friday afternoon.
Thumbnail photo via Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports Images