By Scott Brown, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Looking dapper and buff in a brown suit, Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison showed a side Tuesday afternoon that the media — and especially opponents — rarely see: a joking one.
Talking about the six-year, $51.175 million contract that he agreed to Monday, Harrison said, "The reason it took a little longer than what we expected was I had to get a clause in there that says I get to fly with Mr. (Dan) Rooney before he left (for Ireland). We were holding out for a month. They decided they'd let that in there."
Reporters laughed, and Harrison had every reason to smile.
The guy who received a $5,000 bonus when he first signed with the Steelers in 2002 is now the highest-paid defensive player in team history, with $20 million in guaranteed money.
Harrison said his new contract won't make him complacent.
"I don't feel like I've peaked," Harrison said. "There are things I look at on tape that I did last year that I feel I can do better as far as learning the defense."
The Steelers will feel like they are getting their money's worth out of Harrison if he comes close to replicating the success he had in 2008.
The 6-foot, 242-pounder set the Steelers' single-season sack record (16) and forced seven fumbles while recording 100 tackles.
Harrison became the first undrafted free agent to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, and he capped his spectacular season with a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII.
"James has demonstrated time and again that hard work and persistence pay off," Steelers president Art Rooney II said.
Signing Harrison, who was heading into the final year of his contract, to a long-term deal had been the Steelers' top offseason priority.
Their work is still far from finished.
The Steelers have more than 10 projected starters for the upcoming season heading into the final year of their contracts. And they were believed to be close to the salary-cap limit of $127 million for 2009 even before they signed Harrison.
Harrison's new deal will count for a little more than $6 million against the cap this season.
Locking him up to a long-term deal does allow the Steelers to turn their attention to contract extensions for some of their other veterans.
The Steelers gave Harrison a contract that his agent Bill Parise said rivals the seven-year, $100 million deal defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth got from the Washington Redskins in February. One thing the deal that Parise said is "front-loaded" shows: The Steelers agree with the right outside linebacker that his best still maybe yet to come.
Harrison has been a regular at the Steelers' offseason workouts, even though starters were given the option of beginning later than the team's younger players.
"He never quits working," Parise said. "Was he in the weightroom two days after the Super Bowl? Absolutely. Will he be (this) morning? Absolutely. That's just James Harrison."