The Steelers have undergone some change on defense in recent years and, with that unit getting older in key spots, more change is ahead. The team, which has parted ways with beloved linebackers like Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene in the past, has a difficult decision looming with Harrison and some in the organization do not believe he will be back for 2013.
Harrison, who has been hampered by injury problems in recent years, is set to make $6.57 million next season (and count $10 million against the cap) and the Steelers have given linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons big extensions in recent years and are reluctant to tie up too much money in one position. They also want to create more playing time for young linebackers like Jason Worilds, and, at the time Harrison's deal was constructed, sources said, internally targeted 2013 as the time in which he was likely to move on.
Small-market teams like Pittsburgh must be particularly calculated about the contracts and investments. Safety Troy Polamalu, set to make $7.5 million next season, has rarely played since getting his extension and has slowed down, though sources said he is expected back for 2013, which could be his final season there.
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Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau must decide his future again as well, as he has earned the right to stay on as long as he likes and he has indicated he wants to coach in 2013. LeBeau will sit down with head coach Mike Tomlin soon to formalize that decision, though Keith Butler, the heir apparent to LeBeau, has been a little antsy, sources said.
Pittsburgh failed to reach the postseason, and was dumped in the first round a year ago. The defense ended up statistically back among the best in the NFL, and was strong down the stretch, but lacked the game-changing plays, menacing sack presence and pivotal turnovers that have defined its greatness over the years. And guys like Harrison, Polamalu, and Casey Hampton are nearing the end. It was startling to see the Pro Bowl teams announced this week and not see a single Steeler on the AFC defense.