Harrison: Steelers exit inevitable

Updated: September 12, 2013
By Scott Brown | ESPN.com

PITTSBURGH -- James Harrison will have a different view of the Pittsburgh Steelers when he lines up for the Cincinnati Bengals against his former team Monday night.

Harrison is in his first season as the Bengals' starting strongside outside linebacker. He signed a two-year, $4.45 million deal with Cincinnati in April after blossoming into a perennial Pro Bowler and one of the NFL's most feared pass rushers with Pittsburgh.

But Harrison did see the end to his Steelers career, spectacular as it was, coming before it became official in March.

"I knew when we first started talking and negotiating that things didn't look like I was going to end up there," Harrison said Thursday during a conference call with Pittsburgh media. "We couldn't come to an agreement that was comfortable to them or comfortable to me, so we parted ways."

James Harrison will take on his former Pittsburgh Steelers teammates for the first time Monday night.

The Steelers would have owed Harrison $6.53 million this season had they not released him in March, and there was a strong sentiment in Pittsburgh that he should have accepted a pay cut that reflected his advancing age as well as the organization's need for salary-cap relief.

"He was willing to take less money," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "I think that's been the confusion. He was trying to take the pay cut and get it done in a way that was to his liking and make it worth it to him. Would I like for him to be here? Yes. But in those situations, when both sides want what they want, that's what happens."

There were reports after Harrison signed with Cincinnati that he took less money than what the Steelers were offering even with the cut in salary. Harrison did not directly answer a question about whether he ended up with less money after he couldn't come to an agreement with the Steelers.

The 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year said he has no regrets about how everything played out and added, "There are only a few people that know exactly what was going on in those negotiations."

Clark said pride may have been a factor in Harrison leaving Pittsburgh, and the veteran strong safety said he can see how that can happen if a player is asked to take too much of a pay cut.

Harrison, who signed a six-year, $51.174 million contract in 2009, had two years left on the deal when the Steelers released him.

"Another organization can turn on the film and say, 'Ryan Clark does X?' But you feel like the people in this building know what you do beyond that film," Clark said. "They know what you're giving them in sacrifice. So it is tough and in some ways hurtful when they make those types of decisions."

Harrison, who was cut three times by Pittsburgh before finally sticking with the team, was known as one of the hardest workers on the Steelers.

He apparently hasn't changed his approach.

"He's been a great pro and a great role model for our defensive football team because they watch how he comes to work and goes about his business," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "It's been really another confirmation of how you do it."

Harrison, 35, is adjusting to playing in a 4-3 defense after having thrived in the Steelers' 3-4 attack since becoming a full-time starter in Pittsburgh in 2007.

That is not all he is getting used to in Cincinnati.

"Everybody tells me how they used to hate me but now they love me," Harrison said of Bengals fans. "I get approached more here now than I did when I was in Pittsburgh. If I was to walk down the street here I'd probably get stopped by every fourth or fifth person to take a picture or sign an autograph."

What may be just as different for Harrison is wearing a different uniform than his former teammates. The consensus in the Steelers' locker room is that it will be fun for the players to see Harrison again but a bit strange to see him in Bengals colors.

"It's already different watching film and seeing him in a different uniform," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "I'm sure he'll have his black visor on so we won't be able to see his face too well."

Harrison said he won't do a lot of talking during the game. And he has steered clear of any pregame talk that will generate headlines.

When asked for a prediction in his first game against the Steelers, Harrison said, "I don't know. That's why we play the game. We'll see how it ends after 60 minutes is done."