Harrison says he's far from his peak

James Harrison (Ferrey/Getty Images)

James Harrison stood up to make a statement to the media that had assembled to discuss his six-year, $51.75 million extension with $20 million in bonuses. When the resplendent linebacker ...

... finished, he looked out at the people and the cameras and the microphones and asked, with the chip-free confidence of someone who was now standing at the front of life's line, "Any questions?"

Of course, there were. Here's the entire press conference.

ART ROONEY II

Good afternoon. Thanks for being with us today. It's a busy day here at the UPMC South Side. A lot of the players are in for their offseason workout program. A few of the players are being fitted for their Super Bowl rings. The schedule's going to be announced tonight. And most importantly, we're able to announce we've been able to sign James Harrison to a new six-year contract. So it's a very good day.

Over the last several years James has demonstrated time and again that hard work and persistence pays off, and that culminated last year in his being named the Defensive Player of the Year and our team winning the Super Bowl. So coming into this offseason it was one of our priorities to extend James's contract and have him continue to be a Steeler for many years, and allows us to enjoy the leadership and great play that he's brought to us over the last few years. It's a good day. I want to thank Bill Parise (Harrison's agent) and (Steelers negotiator) Omar (Khan) for their hard work in getting this done. And, now, James, congratulations.

JAMES HARRISON

OK, I'll make this short and sweet. I'd like to start off first and foremost by thanking God. Without Him, none of this is possible. I'd like to thank:

-- Mr. Rooney, Art and Dan, for doing this for me.

-- My coaches. Dick LeBeau, first and foremost, is the guy who makes everything work. He draws up the defensive combinations that make me look like a star. I'm just out there doing what the puppet-master tells me to do.

-- And just the whole Steelers organization. Like I said from the beginning, I wanted to be a Steeler for life. It's not like I wanted to leave here. It's great to be here. We've got the best fans in the league, and I'm just happy to be here.

Any questions?

Q: Do you have a better season in you?

A: Hopefully. I'll come in this year and try

to do better than the last. It might not be in numbers; it may just be in overall total defense with the whole defense getting better.

Q: You're turning 31 soon. Is this a peak time for you?

A: I don't feel like I've totally peaked. Like I said, I feel like I can get better. There are things I look at on tape from last year that I feel I can do better this year. As far as learning the defense, right now I know what I'm supposed to do. I know what the guy on the left of me is supposed to do; I know what the guy on the right of me is supposed to do. Now I need to figure out what the guys behind me are doing, that way I can better help them and then help myself.

Q: Between this and the Super Bowl, have you allowed yourself to reflect on how far you've come?

A: Um, I really don't have time to reflect. We went real deep into the season. I'm just getting ready to prepare for next season.

Q: You've got a big family. How's everyone reacting to this contract?

A: Congratulations, you know. Well, first thing my mom said was ‘How much?' (Laughs) But they're real happy for me.

Q: How involved were you in the negotiations?

A: My agent, Bill Parise, let me know what was going on. They talked to him and he talked to me. The reason it took a little bit longer than what I expected is because we had to get a clause in there that let me fly with Mr. Rooney before he leaves (for Ireland). That's why it took so long. We were holding out a month before they decided to let that in there. (Art Rooney interjects: We don't have that totally resolved just yet.)

Q: James, is there anything you'll approach differently now that you have the contract?

A: There's not anything I think I'll approach differently. I'll just be, I guess, a little bit more reckless on the field. I won't have to worry about too much anymore.

Q: You've always been driven by hunger and a chip on your shoulder. Now what will drive you?

A: What will drive me is I'll want to make them proud. I won't want to let them down. I don't want them to feel like they gave me this money and I'm just going to go out here and (pause) the bed. You know what I mean? So that's what's going to drive me.

Q: Aside from negotiating to fly with Mr. Rooney, was the uncapped year an issue? And how much about that did you know going into the contract negotiations compared with how much you know now?

A: Going into it I didn't know too much, but after I got into it, it became, yeah, an issue to where if they didn't get the collective bargaining agreement together it could cause some problems both ways. To come through with the agreement that we did, I'm happy with it.

Q: Is it a relief to get it out of the way?

A: Definitely. Like I said, I can get back to what I do best: Go out there and practice, work out, run, and get ready for another season.

Q: Do you like what the Steelers have done in the offseason?

A: I don't see anything wrong with what they did. Actually I'm pretty happy about it. We won a Super Bowl with the team that we have right now, minus a guy here. So I don't see why it would be ill-advised to not do what they did.

Q: Are you anxious to see the schedule that comes out tonight?

A: I can't do nothing about the schedule. The only thing I can do is wait for it to come out and go play.

Q: It's a six-year contract. How much do you think you can play?

A: I think I can play all six, maybe a little more.

Q: The story going around is that two days after the Super Bowl you were in the weight room, and you weren't too happy about being the only one. Is all of that true?

A: I go on my own schedule. Some guys do things differently. I don't really like to be out of it too long because then it's a little longer for me to get back into the shape that I'm in.

Q: Two days isn't even enough time to recover from a run like that, is it?

A: Yes it is. That's what took so long. I had to recover from the run.

Q: Has it sunk in yet that you're making this much money, and do you have any plans for it?

A: I don't know if it's really sunk in. I guess it's a lot of money. I plan on doing some real estate investment stuff.

Q: What did you get when you first signed here as a rookie free agent?

A: Four or five thousand. I know after taxes it was enough to pay for that motorcycle I got.

Q: Still have it?

A: No, no. I got a newer one.

Q: Do you wear a helmet?

A: Of course … sometimes.

BILL PARISE

Q: Are you the only agent he's had?

A: I was not his first agent. He had a different agent out of college, and then when James first got cut, that agent apparently got amnesia that he had a client. So James called me because I had his teammate from Kent. So I was fortunate to sign him and I've been with him ever since.

Q: Who was that client?

A: Josh Bostick, a wide receiver.

Q: James had some tough moments early on in his career, didn't he?

A: He did. James Harrison's a great story about success, and success always comes through hard work. Was he in the weight room two days after the Super Bowl? Absolutely. And will he be in there tomorrow morning? Absolutely. That's just James Harrison. He keeps on working.

When I saw James on film in college, really, I thought he was one of the best linebackers I ever saw in my life. I'm not surprised at his success. It's a pleasure to work with someone who deserves success as much as he does.

Q: Can you explain how you overcame the negotiating problem of the potential uncapped year?

A: Well, the uncapped year was very much a stumbling block because of the 30 percent rule. The 30 percent rule means the increments of increase are never allowed to exceed 30 percent of your 2009 salary. Now, when you have a salary cap to work with, as they do this year, then that becomes quite a stumbling block. In addition to that, if you guarantee things in future year, it has to come back to the 2009 cap. So it took a lot of hard work on my part and Omar's part to stay focused and get that done. We were able to do that.

Q: The Saints used completion bonuses to get around that. Did you use those?

A: We did some options, some roster bonuses, some things like that. We did not use completion bonuses. It was a challenge.

Q: Is James a young 31?

A: Well sure. He's only played two years. James probably takes better care of himself than almost anybody that I've been part of, and I've been an agent 26 years. Yeah, he's very young. I think he has a lot left. James said today that he wasn't at his peak. I don't think he's anywhere near his peak. I think that we as fans of Pittsburgh have an opportunity to watch him for a few more years before we deal with that.

Q: How much was the age factor when you look at some of the other mega-contracts involving twentysomethings?

A: If you look at history, the Steelers do not sign 30-year-old linebackers, certainly, to an unprecedented agreement. It was a major factor and I think James's performance was the overshadowing criteria that helped us overcome that. His age was a major factor, yes.

Q: What was James doing when Clark Haggans hurt his hand?

A: Waiting for me to call him. No, he had just got released by the Ravens and I called him and he told me he got released. I said, ‘James, don't worry, I'll find a place for you.' And he said, ‘Bill, I'm not worried.' And he really wasn't. He went back home to Akron and started to work out. When Clark got hurt, I called the Steelers right away and they were able to get him back and I think that was a turning point. James referenced today that he wanted to thank God for His help in this, and I really think there's got to be some divine intervention here to bring James Harrison from an undrafted rookie to the most valuable defensive player in the NFL.

Q: At $51.75 million, how close did you come to your target?

A: We were $85,000 short of my goal. That's the truth. We were $85,000 short of the number we went in with.

Q: Many NFL contracts leave the player having no vision of completing them.

A: You'll find that this contract is very much front-end heavy, which is unique, particularly dealing with an uncapped year. This contract very clearly demonstrates that James Harrison is a valuable part of this program.

Q: What's his cap number?

A: His cap number for this year, I believe, is $6.2 million.

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