Hannable: James Harrison will not be Steven Jackson of 2015 for Patriots

Ryan Hannable
December 26, 2017 - 5:52 pm

Philip G. Pavely/USA Today Sports

The two moves are very similar.

At the end of the 2015 season the Patriots were desperate for any sort of running game — so desperate that they signed a 32-year-old Steven Jackson, who hadn’t played football in almost a year.

The move didn’t pay off, as the Patriots fell to the Broncos in the AFC title game, a game in which Tom Brady (13 yards) was the Patriots’ leading rusher, and Jackson had just eight yards on four carries. In four games including the playoffs with New England, he had 45 yards rushing. 

Former Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who the Patriots signed to a one-year deal on Tuesday, will not be what Jackson was in 2015.

The Patriots need help rushing the passer, as the outside linebacker/defensive end spot has been a weakness for the majority of the season. Not only has it struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, it also has had trouble containing the edge. 

There’s no denying the 39-year-old Harrison isn’t what he once was, playing in just five games this season in Pittsburgh and totaling one sack, but he doesn’t need to be what he once was. All he needs to be is be better than Eric Lee and Marquis Flowers, and there seems to be little doubt he will be able to do that. It also takes some of the pressure of Kyle Van Noy, who has missed the last three games with a calf injury, and has been asked to do a ton since Dont’a Hightower went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.

It may also help the Patriots and Harrison that he’s only played in five games this season, as he will be fully rested for the final regular-season game and postseason.

Just look at what Harrison did in the Steelers’ three playoff games last year: three sacks, two quarterback hits and eight hurries. Add in the fact if the Patriots meet the Steelers in the AFC title game, Harrison will be the most motivated player on the field, certainly looking to seek payback on his former team who released him last weekend after not giving him the playing time he thought he deserved this year.

The outside linebacker has a ton of accolades: two-time Super Bowl champion, five-time Pro Bowler (2007-11), two-time, first-team All-Pro (2008 and 2010), two-time, second-team All-Pro (2007 and 2009) and NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2008). He's also Pittsburgh's all-time sacks leader with 80.5. Obviously, Harrison is past his prime, but the Patriots don’t need him to be this player for an entire season. They just need him to make a few plays disrupting the opposing quarterback and contain the edge for a maximum of four games (one regular-season game and three playoff games).

It was a no-brainer considering what the Patriots currently have at the position, and the contract is a one-year deal at a prorated veteran minimum.

Harrison is a true professional and the oldest defensive player currently in the league, so there’s really no downside to the move. It just seems like he wants the chance to play for a winning team, having already won two Super Bowls. He’s been active only once since Oct. 22, so it’s quite clear how frustrated he’s been considering how productive he’s been over the course of his 15-year NFL career.

With New England, he immediately is its best pass rusher and if he can pick up the playbook quickly, he should be on the field Sunday for the regular-season finale against the Jets and potentially have a larger role for the playoffs.

Contrary to late season moves of past years with Jackson and even Michael Floyd last year, it just feels like Harrison will be different.

Comments ()