James Harrison signs with the Patriots

Former Steelers linebacker James Harrison, released by the Steelers on Saturday, signed with the New England Patriots today.

Harrison, 39, played little this season (40 snaps) and dressed for only 5 games. His lack of playing time was due to the emergence of first round draft pick T.J. Watt, the Steelers requiring their linebackers to drop into coverage, and Harrison’s inability to play special teams.

During training camp, linebackers coach Joey Porter said Harrison would have a ‘relief pitcher’ role. “We have two guys who are first-rounders, we drafted them for this,” Porter said, per Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette. “Now you have to turn them loose and let them play.”

Harrison played a huge role in the 2nd half of 2016, replacing the ineffective Jarvis Jones, registering 39 tackles and and 5 sacks. In the wild card game against the Miami Dolphins, he had 10 combined tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble in the 30-12 win.

Harrison, the all-time leader in sacks with 80 1/2, was selected to the Pro Bowl 5 times, won 2 Super Bowls with the Steelers, was named AP NFL Defensive Player of the year for the 2008 season, and had one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history when he intercepted a pass from Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and ran back the length of the field for a 100-yard touchdown at the end of the first half.

He expressed frustration with is role in early December, telling Dale Lolley of that if he knew he would be getting such little playing time, “I would have signed somewhere else.”

He posted a photo of himself with quarterback Tom Brady from the Patriots locker room on his Instagram account with the caption “Finally…A teammate that’s older than me!”

The Patriots and Steelers have the 2 best records in the AFC and have already secured first round byes. This weekend’s games will determine who gets homefield advantage. A New England win vs. the Jets would secure them the top spot, but if they lose and the Steelers defeat the Browns, the Steelers will get the #1 seed.

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