To hear some members of the Steelers tell it Wednesday, James Harrison was not a very good teammate this season. However, many of them are even less happy with the veteran linebacker for quickly signing with the rival Patriots following his release from Pittsburgh.
“It feels like he went to the Patriots just to spit in Coach [Mike] Tomlin and Mr. [Art] Rooney’s face. That’s all it was to us,” Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree said during a Pittsburgh radio interview (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), referring to the team’s head coach and owner, respectively. “Like, basically you spit on your teammates, you spit on us because the whole season you’ve been shown as someone different than what you were supposed to, so-called, be to us — other than a leader.”
“He erased himself,” Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said (via the Post-Gazette). “He erased his own legacy here.”
Pittsburgh players appeared to be reacting to a narrative they believe has emerged since Harrison’s release Saturday, in which the Steelers allegedly wronged him by releasing him just before a Week 16 game at the Texans. According to that narrative, the team also deceived the 39-year-old about how much playing time he could expect while relying on him to share the benefits of his experience with younger teammates.
“It’s no one’s fault on our team, why he got cut — he cut his self,” Dupree said. “He came in, he didn’t want to do anything that made us better.”
Harrison said Wednesday (via the Post-Gazette) that after being rarely used during the season, he asked for his release following a Week 15 loss to the Patriots in which he never got the workload he claimed the team had promised. “If I didn’t play in the biggest game of the year, that told me I wouldn’t get any more snaps,” he said. “So all that lip service you gave me before didn’t matter.”
“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?’ ” Harrison said. “You go on your way, and I’ll go on mine. They said, ‘No, no, no, we got a role for you.’ ”
When that on-field role did not materialize as planned, Harrison never lived up to his expected role as a mentor, either, according to Dupree. “He made it clear to us early [that he didn’t want to be here],” said Dupree, a former first-round pick in his third NFL season. Using Harrison’s nickname, “Deebo,” he added, “We try to look at Deebo as a mentor, as the O.G. of the team.
“We all tried to give him a chance just to be the leader and be the person that, before we got here, the Steelers portrayed him to be. . . . But when someone really doesn’t want to share wisdom with you or share knowledge with you because they feel like you’re going to take their shine or take their limelight, that’s how we feel.”
Steelers cornerback Artie Burns said (via ESPN) that Harrison’s “energy” made it clear that he was disenchanted with his lack of playing time. That attitude led to “a whole thing with him and the guys upstairs,” Burns said of his former teammate.
Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell referred to the amount New England will pay the five-time Pro Bowl pick for being on its roster in Week 17, saying, “I’m not going to assassinate his character, but I wouldn’t have done it for $59,000.”
Despite all the commentary coming from Harrison’s former teammates Wednesday, Pouncey claimed that Steelers players were less concerned about his departure and the circumstances thereof than fans of the team and media members. “It ain’t no problem. . . . We don’t care. Bye. Have fun,” he said.
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