Hard-working Steelers LB Harrison vows not to change with big contract
PITTSBURGH -- First, James Harrison says, he wants to dispel the notion that it has taken him all this time to recover from his exhausting, 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII.
Two months? No way. Two days is more like it.
James Harrison, LB
Harrison began lifting weights just a couple days after his length-of-the-field run helped the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23, the All-Pro linebacker said Tuesday after signing a six-year, $51.75 million contract to stay in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers staged their Super Bowl parade before an estimated quarter-million people in downtown Pittsburgh on Feb. 3, two days after winning in Tampa, but Harrison apparently had enough time to slip in a workout that day.
"That's what took so long," Harrison said of needing two days -- and not one -- to work out again. "I had to recover from the run."
Some NFL players might think about hitting the weights again a couple of weeks after the season ends, but to go back to work so soon after making one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history?
"I go on my own schedule," Harrison said. "Some guys do things differently. I don't like to be out of it too long because then it takes too long to get back into the shape that you were in."
Harrison's new contract guarantees him about $20 million -- slightly more than the $5,000 the Steelers gave the undrafted rookie out of Kent State as a signing bonus in 2003, before they cut him three times and the Baltimore Ravens cut him once. Then, he had only enough bonus money to buy a motorcycle.
Now, Harrison is the second highest-paid player in Steelers history after reaching a deal that is surpassed by only quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's eight-year, $102 million contract, which is worth a guaranteed $36 million.
Harrison, the only non-drafted player to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, insists that being a big-money player for the first time won't change him. He had a team-record 16 sacks last season for the NFL's top-rated defense.
"I want to make them proud and not let them down," said Harrison, whose most recent contract paid him $5.5 million over four seasons. "I don't want them to feel like they gave me this money and now I'm going out there and not perform. That is what is going to drive me."
Neither Harrison nor his family yet comprehend the kind of money he is about to make. Once agent Bill Parise wrapped up the deal, Harrison said his mother called and asked, "How much?"
"I don't know that it really has sunk in," Harrison said. "I guess it is a lot of money. I guess once I get it in my hand it will be different."
Harrison joked that the contract negotiations were delayed because he sought a provision that allows him to fly with Steelers owner Dan Rooney. The 76-year-old Rooney is a longtime pilot who often flies his small, private plane to NFL meetings.
Rooney has been nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to Ireland and will leave the day-to-day position he has held with the Steelers throughout his adult life if his appointment is confirmed.
"We had to get a clause in there that I can fly with Mr. Rooney before he leaves," Harrison said. "That was what took so long. We were holding out for a month before they decided they would let that in there."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
Steelers' Harrison spins new deal into incentive to do better
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
James Harrison is optimistic he'll be a Steeler for the entire six years of his new $51.75 million contract.
The first time the Steelers signed James Harrison, they got him for a $5,000 signing bonus. Then they cut him, then cut him again, then cut him again.
Baltimore, another NFL team known for its great linebacker play, did not want to be outdone, so they too signed and cut him.
Yesterday, Harrison wore a dark brown suit that would have cut heavily into his first signing bonus. That's more like tip money for him now as the Steelers formally announced his six-year contract (he counts $6.2 million against their salary cap this year) that will pay him a signing bonus of $10 million, or 2,000 times his first as a pro.
And he intends to collect on the full $51,175,000 of the six-year contract, even though he will be 37 at its conclusion.
"I think I can play all six, maybe a little more," Harrison said.
And maybe play a little better, if that's possible. He made the Pro Bowl his first season as a starter at right outside linebacker in 2007. He was NFL defensive player of the year in '08 and was voted by his teammates as their MVP for a second consecutive year. Along the way, he set the team's sack record with 16, then turned in what has been called the best defensive play in Super Bowl history when he returned an interception 100 yards for the longest touchdown in the game's 43 years.
Bill Parise, his agent from the Beaver County township of Rochester, admitted that Harrison's play the past two seasons helped to offset his age. As Parise put it, "If you look at history ... the Steelers do not sign 30-year-old linebackers, certainly not to an unprecedented agreement. It was a major factor, and I think James' performance was the overshadowing criteria that helped us succeed."
The Steelers could have forced Harrison to play the final year of his old contract at $1.4 million, then made him the franchise player for 2010, keeping him until he turned 33. And it was not so much a reward for playing at such a high level for relatively low pay the past two years, but the Steelers' belief he can continue to do so.
"I don't feel like I have totally peaked," Harrison said. "I feel like I can get better at some things that I have seen on tape that I did last year that I feel I can do better this year."
Harrison has been driven in part by the rejections that began when he was not drafted out of Kent State in 2002 and signed with the Steelers as an undersized, 6-foot linebacker. That size now is seen as an asset as he gains leverage on taller tackles.
So, how will he perform now that he has what his agent termed the largest contract over five years of any NFL linebacker?
"There is not anything that I think I will approach differently," Harrison said. "I will just be a little more reckless on the field because I don't have to worry about too much anymore."
He smiled after that last tongue-in-cheek comment. It's hard to imagine Harrison playing the game in a more reckless manner.
"I want to make them proud and not let them down," he said of the Steelers. "I don't want them to feel like they gave me this money and now I'm going to go out and not perform. That is what is going to drive me."