Linebacker James Harrison has played 11 NFL seasons–all but one with the Steelers, and he’ll likely retire a Steeler after signing a two-year contract on Sunday in Arizona. It all came down to a difficult choice between Harrison’s loyalty to the Steelers, and his loyalty to his former defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, who’s now in charge of defense for the Tennessee Titans. Harrison decided to stay in Pittsburgh. Bill Parise, Harrison’s agent, said this about the decision, “there was a lot of emotional attachment to this conversation because of Dick LeBeau and Tennessee and because of James’ loyalty to the Steelers, his loyalty to the Rooneys, his loyalty to the coaches, his loyalty to the city and the Steeler nation. So they became excessively difficult but not because of money.” The NFL owners are holding their annual league meetings in Arizona, and by coincidence, that’s where Harrison has been training in the offseason. So it was convenient for Harrison to sign the deal immediately. Harrison will turn 37 on May 4th. He was cut three times, but wouldn’t quit. He finally made the Steelers in 2004, and went on to win the NFL defensive player-of-the-year award, and earned a trip to five Pro Bowls. Parise says Harrison “has shown that over the years he’s the type of player that Pittsburgh loves, and he loves Pittsburgh. so it’s really been an exciting day for us coming to the end of a career we know where we’re going to be. We’re going to be home. We’re going to be with a team we love and people we care about, so I think that’s a great thing.” Harrison will also embrace another role, that of a mentor to the younger linebackers. It’s likely that the Steelers will say goodbye to three other aging defensive stars. Brett Keisel has already been released. Ike Taylor is an unrestricted free agent, and appears to be resigned to the fact that he won’t be returning. Troy Polamalu will also likely be gone. But one of their most dominant players from the past decade will stay, and so will the career of one of the more improbable success stories in the NFL.
In a stunner only hours after the start of NFL free agency, linebacker Jason Worilds announced that he was retiring. Worilds broke the news with four tweets:
“I appreciate all of the interest from the organizations that have reached out to us the past few days.”
“With that being said, after much thought & consideration I have chosen to step away from football as I have opted to pursue other interests.”
“I am especially grateful of the opportunity to play before some of the greatest fans in football today.”
“Despite any concern and speculation that may ensue, I appreciate those that are respectful of my decision.”
Worilds is only 27, and is reportedly quitting football to spend time committing to his religious beliefs. He earned approximately $13.5 million over a five-year NFL career, but by retiring, he’ll pass up a multi-million dollar payday including a significant amount of guaranteed money. The Steelers reacted to the news with this statement on their website.
“We respect his decision to retire and thank him for his five years in Pittsburgh. We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
The Penguins came into march like a lion. They’ve won six of their last seven. After ups and downs and mumps and injuries, it’s easy to think that the Pens are finally getting it together. But a word of warning. While regular-season wins are never a bad thing, they don’t necessarily mean a whole lot when it comes to the playoffs. In three of the five postseasons since the 2009 Stanley Cup, the Pens earned at least 24 points in their final 17 games. In those 3 seasons, they were bounced from the playoffs in the first round twice. There’s a new standard for the Pens. It’s not regular season points or wins—even wins against Stanley Cup favorites. All that matters now is winning in the playoffs, and one month from this coming week, we’ll start to find out if they have what it takes in the games that matter.
The Washington Capitals have dominated the Penguins this season. The Caps won the first two games by shutout, and in Tuesday night’s win at the Consol Energy Center, the Penguins managed just one goal. The rivalry is alive and well, and after what happened to Kris Letang, you can count on some carryover venom when the Pens visit the Caps next Wednesday. Letang was whacked on the skates by Washington star Alex Ovechkin. Letang lost his skate edge trying to get back up and went flying into the boards. Ovechkin says he was just trying to get the puck, “I didn’t think it was a penalty…the puck was in front of his feet, take a shot and that’s it.” Letang had an interesting response when asked about the hit, and the claim that Ovechkin was going for the puck, “Apparently my leg was a puck so I guess he thought his stick could go through my legs and or something like that. I don’t know.”
Former Steelers safety Ryan Clark announced his retirement on ESPN today. Clark, who’s 35-years-old, played 13 seasons in the NFL after signing with the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2002. He started at free safety for the Steelers from 2006 to 2013, playing in two super bowls and winning one. He was always one of the solid soundbites in the locker room, and Clark will continue the career he’s already started as a broadcaster.
Will he return or won’t he? The speculation has mounted about Brett Keisel since he tore his triceps in the middle of the 2014 season. On Wednesday night at his annual “Shear Da Beard” event in Warrendale, Keisel said he wants to return to the Steelers, “For when that day comes, I’ll be ready, and by that day I mean the end. But right now I am under contract and I’m gonna rehab and see where things turn out.” Keisel is signed to the Steelers for one more season.
On Monday morning, only hours after leading the New England Patriots to a rout over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship, superstar quarterback Tom Brady laughed off a suggestion that the footballs used by the Patriots were under-inflated. On Thursday, this time in front of cameras and a packed room of reporters, and in a nationally-televised news conference, Brady had a more somber tone, “this is a very serious subject. The integrity of the sport is very important.” Brady says he didn’t know about any tampering with footballs, “I have no knowledge of anything. I have no knowledge of any wrongdoing.” Here are some more quotes from Brady on the subject:
“I didn’t alter the ball in any way.”
“I don’t have an explanation…I get the snap, I drop back, I throw the ball. I don’t sit there and try to squeeze it and determine that.”
“When I pick those footballs out, at that point, to me, they’re perfect. I don’t want anyone touching the balls after that. I don’t want anyone rubbing them, putting any air in them, taking any air out. To me, those balls are perfect, and that’s what I expect when I show up on the field.”
“I feel like I have always played within the rules,” he said. “I would never break the rules.”
The NFL investigation of the New England Patriots continues, and there are new developments. The NFL found 11 of the 12 balls used by the patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship were under-inflated, and significantly below the league standard. This could make the balls easier to throw, catch and hold on to during wet conditions. The league also found that the referees did check the footballs before the game, so any deflation would have happened after that inspection. The Patriots have deferred all questions to the NFL. The league is not commenting, but Steelers President Art Rooney II is. In an interview with several writers, Rooney said, “I wouldn’t put it on the scale of serious, but, if it is in fact true, it is a violation of league rules that i am sure the league office will deal with in an appropriate way.” The league expects to wrap up the investigation in the next few days.
Zac Rinaldo of the Flyers is facing a likely suspension after knocking Penguins defenseman Kris Letang hard into the glass during last night’s overtime loss to Philadelphia. Rinaldo’s hit was bad, but his comments after the game were worse, “Yeah I changed the whole game man, who knows what the game would’ve been like if I didn’t do what I did.” Those words are understandably infuriating Pens fans. Rinaldo was offered an in-person hearing with the league, which means he could get six games or more for that hit, where he left his feet and slammed into Letang from behind. The date and time for that hearing have not been set. The league wants more information on Letang’s condition first. Letang did skate with the Pens at an optional gameday skate this morning, but he’ll be a gametime decision tonight when the Pens host the Blackhawks. Head Coach Mike Johnston talked about the hit this morning, but didn’t want to talk about Rinaldo’s comment, “I had just heard what he said, but players making comments, I’m not gonna make a comment on things they say after a game, and certainly it wasn’t a good hit. Any time a player is in a vulnerable position you have to be careful and I think everybody knows that.”