FOXBORO, Mass. — As multiple Pittsburgh Steelers players blasted James Harrison for the way the linebacker left the Steel City, the New England Patriots welcomed him with open arms.
“He’s done a lot of good things around the league through his own career,” Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers said Wednesday after Harrison’s first practice with New England. “I’m looking forward to him being out there on the field with me making plays.”
“He’s been doing it a long time,” Flowers said. “Very physical player. Obviously in the weight room, just being able to keep his body strong. So (I can learn) a whole lot, whether it’s stopping the run, pass rush, things like that. Anytime you get a vet that’s been doing it a long time, you can learn a lot from him.”
“It’s exciting to see him on our team,” added rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr., who was 7 years old when Harrison signed his first NFL contract in 2002.
A former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Harrison played sparingly for the Steelers this season, appearing in just five games and logging a total of 40 defensive snaps. On Saturday, Pittsburgh waived him 15 weeks into his 15th NFL season (14 with the Steelers, one with the Cincinnati Bengals).
Two days after passing unclaimed through waivers, the veteran outside linebacker signed with the Patriots, who beat the Steelers in last season’s AFC Championship Game and are expected to contend with Pittsburgh for this year’s conference title, as well.
“Guys can play anywhere in this league,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “That’s just the way it works. You never know who will show up or who will be gone. That’s the tough part about playing the NFL.”
Even in his advanced age, Harrison is a physical specimen. He’s listed a 6-foot, 242 pounds and is known for his legendary workout regimen.
“He’s a well-put-together human being,” McCourty said. “Scary-looking, some would probably say.”
Harrison, Pittsburgh’s all-time sacks leader with 80 1/2, could make his Patriots debut this Sunday against the New York Jets.
“What he’s done for this league, and just his story — undrafted free agent, how he wasn’t the most polished but just kept getting better and better — it’s a pleasure to have him here,” safety Duron Harmon said. “We’ll try to welcome him with open arms, and hopefully he can do some things to help us.”
Though Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he harbored no ill will toward Harrison over his decision to sign with a rival, several Pittsburgh players felt otherwise, publicly skewering the veteran linebacker for what they believed to be a dishonorable exit from the team.
“He erased his own legacy here, let’s be serious,” Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey told reporters Thursday. “… It’s crazy. It blows my mind.”
Harrison is not scheduled to address the New England media for the first time until Friday, according to the Patriots.
Thumbnail photo via Philip G. Pavely/USA TODAY Sports Images