The Cincinnati Bengals have released linebacker James Harrison, the team announced on Thursday.
Cincinnati signed Harrison to a two-year deal worth $4.45 million with a $1.2 million signing bonus last year. The release frees up $1.434 million against the team's salary cap (his cap number was $2 million but the team loses $600,000 in cap money).
It's debatable on how much Harrison contributed on the field. Playing 409 snaps as a strong-side backer, Harrison posted two quarterback sacks and 30 tackles -- lowest totals since 2006. He also accounted for 19 pressures. What's undisputed is the mentorship he provided for the young Vontaze Burfict, who became the first Bengals linebacker to reach the Pro Bowl since Jim LeClair in 1976.
"It was great for our coaches, players and fans to have James on our team last year," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "He’s a player everyone looks up to because of his ability, his accomplishments and his drive to be the best. He helped us win a division title with his play and with the example he set.
"It’s time for us to go a different direction now, with some younger guys, but we will all still reap benefits from having had James with us as a Bengal last year."
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.
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 last year, 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.
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.