Bengals decide to go younger, release Harrison after one season
CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals released linebacker James Harrison on Thursday, leaving the former Defensive Player of the Year looking for his third team in three seasons.
The 35-year-old linebacker helped the Steelers win a pair of Super Bowls and was the league’s top defensive player in 2008. He left Pittsburgh when the two sides couldn’t agree on a restructured deal.
Harrison went down the Ohio River to AFC North rival Cincinnati, where he got a two-year contract. The Bengals envisioned him using his pass-rushing ability to become a difference-maker on a defense that was already one of the league’s best.
He wound up with a limited role for the first half of the season as he got acclimated. Harrison was limited to 14 or fewer plays in five of the first seven games, making the transition from Pittsburgh’s 3-4 alignment to a 4-3 in Cincinnati. His role expanded as the season went along and injuries limited the defense.
Harrison played in 15 games, starting 10, and finished 12th on the team in tackles. He had two sacks and one interception.
“It was great for our coaches, players and fans to have James on our team last year,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “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.”
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict credited Harrison with helping him develop into a Pro Bowl player last season. Cincinnati’s defense finished third in the NFL and was the key to the Bengals reaching the playoffs for an unprecedented third straight season.
The Bengals lost to San Diego in the opening round, leaving them 0-5 in the playoffs under Lewis. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1990, matching the sixth-longest streak of playoff futility in NFL history.
Harrison tweeted: “Many thanks to all the Bengals fans for your support over the last year — I had a great time in Cincinnati.”
Harrison is the second veteran in three days that was released by the team. Center Kyle Cook, who started all last season, was released on Tuesday.