Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said he thinks James Harrison will return in 2016. “We anticipate he wants to continue playing,” Colbert said. “I don't see any reason why we wouldn't want to have James here."
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said he believes outside linebacker James Harrison will return for the 2016 season. And he left no doubt the Steelers would like to have him back.
“I wouldn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t want to have James here,” Colbert said.
But, even though Bill Parise, Harrison’s agent, told several media outlets, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, his client will return for one more season, there is still some doubt whether that will happen.
According to Risa Bayalem, Harrison’s business and public relations manager, Harrison told her late Tuesday afternoon he won’t return for one final season until he determines he can give 100 percent on the playing field. And he won’t determine that, in all likelihood, for several months.
Harrison, who will be 38 in May, was in Phoenix Tuesday meeting with his trainer to set up his offseason workout regimen and start the process of making that determination. He was unavailable for comment, but told Bayalem about his apprehension before boarding a plane back to Pittsburgh.
“If he’s not able to give 100 percent, he wouldn’t be doing justice to himself or the Steelers or his teammates,” Bayalem said. “Even if he feels he wants to come back, his age and his body are going to tell him whether that’s possible or not.
“His process right now is go through offseason training in Arizona. If his body is where he feels it needs to be, he’ll proceed.”
If Harrison returns for his 14th NFL season, the Steelers intend to use him more in run situations, which is his strength. He finished the regular season with five sacks — his fewest total with the Steelers since he became a starter in 2007 — but he had a sack in each of the postseason games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos.
Harrison is in the final year of a two-year contract which will count $1.5 million against the salary cap.
“James came back, and he did a great job,” Colbert said Tuesday at a meeting with media members who will be covering the NFL combine that begins next week in Indianapolis. “Not only on the field, but he was really a great mentor to our younger players, not only the outside linebackers but everybody. He quietly inspired those guys. The way he goes about his business every day when he is in the building, he teaches those guys how to be pros without doing it intentionally.”
Meantime, Colbert said the team’s salary-cap situation is “pretty good” compared to other years and doesn’t anticipate “a lot of drastic changes” to get in compliance with cap projections for the 2016 season.
Colbert said the cap situation wouldn’t have any significant impact on the Steelers signing outside players in free agency, but added, “We want to stay the course, as best we can, with our own guys.”
The Post-Gazette reported last week the Steelers are $2.5 million over the projected salary cap for 2016, according to a league source familiar with their salary situation. While that is not an alarmingly high number, it is in contrast to the reports by several websites that the team is anywhere from $6 million to $8 million under the cap.
Colbert did not seem concerned.
“If there is a guy on the outside who makes us better, we’ll plug him in,” Colbert said. “But our big play is keeping our own.”
The Steelers’ top priority in the offseason is rebuilding and strengthening their secondary, which finished 30th in the league against the pass in the 2015 season. But both starting cornerbacks, William Gay and Antwon Blake, and strong safety Will Allen are unrestricted free agents, as is nickel back Brandon Boykin.
Colbert said each of those players are under consideration to be re-signed, including Boykin.
“He helped us down the stretch,” Colbert said. “He’ll definitely be option [to re-sign] for us.”
As far as the draft, Colbert said the secondary talent at the combine “looks to be a deep position ... better than it has been.” He also said he is not concerned the Steelers don’t have a fifth- and sixth-round draft pick because they view Senquez Golson, the No. 2 pick a year ago who spent the season on injured reserve, as an extra draft choice this year.
He said the Steelers effectively will have eight draft picks if they count Golson and the compensatory pick they expect to get for losing cornerback Brice McCain in free agency last year. The Steelers picked up a seventh-round choice from the New York Giants when they traded punter Brad Wing.
“I believe we will net probably about the same number,” Colbert said. “So it hasn’t changed our thinking.”
NOTES — The Steelers signed long-snapper Matt Dooley and defensive tackle Lavon Hooks. They released three players — tight end Rob Blanchflower and tackles Mitchell Van Dyke and Kevin Palmer, who were on injured reserve last season. Blanchflower was a seventh-round pick in 2014.
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.
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