James Harrison’s former Pittsburgh Steelers teammates were none too pleased that the 39-year-old linebacker signed with the rival New England Patriots after being cut by Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“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,” linebacker Bud Dupree said this week.
“He erased himself. He erased his own legacy here,” center Maurkice Pouncey said.
But on Friday, Harrison took to Instagram to deliver a lengthy rebuttal, explaining that he was unhappy with how he was being utilized by the Steelers after their initial promises that he would be a key cog in the team’s defense.
Here’s Harrison’s message in full:
“If anybody thought I signed a two year deal with a team in the NFL at age 39 to sit on the bench and collect a check and a participation trophy, they’re mistaken. I didn’t sign up to sit on the bench and be a cheerleader. I was clear about that when I signed, and I was told I would be on the field when I signed. When I was asking for reps in camp, I got none. I got lip service though: we know what you can do — you don’t need the reps. But I know what my body needs in order to be in shape to compete, and I said so, but still zero reps.
“At the beginning of the season, when it was clear I didn’t have a role anymore, I asked to be released. Throughout the season, I was told week in and out that I’d be used. I wasn’t. I started getting frustrated about the whole thing. I asked to not be dressed or take unnecessary practice reps if I wasn’t going to play. That’s what happened for a [couple] weeks, then we had a game week that I got solid reps in practice and everyone assumed I would play. I got to the stadium four hours early as usual, and my locker was empty. Nobody said anything to me about being inactive, just an empty locker. I asked to be released again. I was told no.
“A couple weeks later, they dress me for the game so I assume I’m going to play, and I get zero reps. Stood on the sideline the whole game. I asked to be released again, I was told no. Then a few days later, they released me. I was never told I would be brought back, it was: If I bring u back, be in shape. I cleared waivers, and they didn’t call. New England called. Also, to be clear, ask Ryan [Shazier] if I came to see him in the hospital. I didn’t help Bud [Dupree] or TJ [Watt]? Ask TJ if I helped him.
“Maybe I didn’t handle my frustration the best that I could’ve. If you haven’t learned anything about me over the last 16 years, I’m a competitor to my core. I live and breathe competition. I do what it takes to keep my body and my mind ready to be on that field. I do it for me, I do it for my family, I do it for my team and I do it for the fans. Nothing else to it. At the end of the day, they made a business decision and so did I.”
In the Instagram caption, Harrison called it his “only comment” on the situation, though his remarks were not all that different from what he told reporters this week after he signed with the Patriots.
“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 told reporters this week. “You go on your way, and I’ll go on mine. They said, ‘No, no, no, we got a role for you.’ ”
That’s where the narrative diverges from what the remaining Steelers have said, mainly that Harrison quit on the team.
“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.”
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