The Cincinnati Bengals have agreed to a two-year deal with free agent linebacker James Harrison, according to multiple reports.
The Bengals and James Harrison have a deal, I'm told— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 19, 2013
James Harrison has agreed to terms on a two-year deal with #bengals— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) April 19, 2013
The reported two-year agreement adds to an already interesting schedule when the Bengals and Steelers will play both of their games in prime time this year. Earlier on Friday, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was hoping to get a deal done with a free agent linebacker, as well as free agent offensive tackle Andre Smith.
"Either player that comes in, we make some adjustment to things we do and we feel good about them," said Lewis of Dansby and Harrison. "They bring some playmaking ability to us and would be good to have. They are good men and would continue to enhance the defensive room. Both guys are smart guys and that would be good."
Whodey!!!!!!!!!!! Hello Cincinnati!!!!— James Harrison (@jharrison9292) April 19, 2013
Harrison, an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2002, has spent most of his career with the Steelers, with a brief stop in Baltimore. Along with 617 tackles, 64 sacks, one safety and has intercepted five passes over the last 10 years, Harrison has named to the Pro Bowl five times, the All-Pro team four times and the 2008 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"Don't let people think he was cut because he's in decline," Neal Coolong who manages the great website Behind the Steel Curtain, told me on Sunday when it looked like an agreement was in the works. "He looked much stronger the second half of the season, which, not coincidentally, was two months removed from knee surgery."
Harrison missed three games in 2012 after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in mid-August, which kept him out until Week Five. After a slow start, Harrison went on a second-half run, generating five quarterback sacks in eight games with 10 additional pressures on the quarterback.
Pittsburgh released Harrison during the offseason, but it wasn't related to a decline in overall production or even durability for the linebacker who turns 35 years old on May 4, despite missing seven games over the past two years related to injuries. Harrison missed four games in 2011 after breaking an orbital bone due on a spear-like hit from Texans offensive tackle Duane Brown. He missed a fifth game that year after a one-game suspension, after a vicious hit on Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. Harrison played 63 of a possible 64 regular season games during the four seasons prior to 2011.
"The Steelers only cut him after offering him a cap-related pay cut," Coolong said. "They wanted him back."
Pittsburgh wanted to reduce Harrison's $10.035 million cap number and began negotiations in early March, but an agreement wasn't reached. The Steelers decided to save $5.105 million against the cap, releasing Harrison on March 9. Harrison was scheduled to earn $6.57 million in 2013 and another $7.575 million in 2014.
As for the projected role that Harrison may play in Cincinnati's defense, expect a situational player that plays primarily during obvious passing situations as a pass rusher and in coverage. He very well could shift into an every down player if the Bengals ask it of him.
"Decent underneath pass coverage, very strong against the run, and against the various front seven looks you give, he could easily find a spot on the edge standing up," Coolong said. "Not sure how much four-down fronts you show, but he can play in that as a down lineman, but he's gonna be better as a stand-up with a 5-technique in front of him than being a 7-tech on his own."
Jason Garrison contributed to this report.