Former Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker and current free agent James Harrison, a key cog in the rivalry with the Baltimore Ravens over the last several years, is interested in crossing enemy lines.
From the Ravens’ perspective, the feeling seems to be mutual.
“I’ve talked to Ozzie and we’re going to talk again Saturday,” Bill Parise, Harrison’s agent, told Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun on Thursday. “Their timeline is a little slower at this point, but Ozzie’s going to have to sign at least a couple of linebackers. I know where we stand. He’s made it clear that there’s interest from the Ravens, and we have an interest. We would like that very much for James to wind up with great organization like the Ravens. So, we’ll wait and see where it goes.”
Parise makes a valid point about the Ravens’ need to bring in linebackers. Less than two hours after free agency began at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, the Ravens lost inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (signed with Miami) and outside linebacker Paul Kruger (signed with Cleveland). Counting the retirement of middle linebacker Ray Lewis, half of the team’s top six linebackers from this past season’s Super Bowl-winning team are gone.
Working against Harrison’s case is the fact that the Ravens have bigger needs on defense. The Ravens need a safety — perhaps two depending on if free-agent safety Ed Reed isn’t re-signed — more than an outside linebacker. Despite Kruger’s departure, the team’s top pass rusher from this past season, Baltimore probably has a bigger role in mind for last season’s top drat pick, Courtney Upshaw.
However, unlike Upshaw, who notched just 1.5 sacks during his rookie campaign, Harrison, the soon-to-be 35-year-old, still has a knack for getting to the quarterback. Though Harrison, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, only recorded six sacks in 2012, his lowest output since 2006, he recorded at least 8.5 sacks in each of the previous five seasons. In addition, Harrison has a nose for the football, having forced 29 fumbles over the last six seasons.
If he comes at the right price, obviously nowhere near the $6.57 he was scheduled to make this season with the Steelers, the Ravens’ former nemesis could provide a boost to a defense that has already lost six defensive starters from last season.