Patriots

Patriots

James Harrison is no spring chicken. He posted a selfie with Tom Brady to his Instagram account saying, "Finally . . . a teammate that's older than me!"

Barely. Harrison is now the second-oldest Patriots player, checking in at 39, behind the NFL's best 40-year-old quarterback. And given the workload he received from the Steelers this year (40 snaps in five games), you could make the argument he's been semi-retired. 

That begs the question: What could he possibly provide the Patriots? Here are a few thoughts on why he could suddenly see his snap-count spike in New England.

1) He's here for a reason. The Patriots have now benefited from the Steelers overselling two different players on their roles. LeGarrette Blount was told one thing by the Steelers in 2014, they did another, he complained, and ended up in Foxboro. Similarly, Harrison was less than enthused with his role this year. So when the Steelers -- who are deep up front with players like Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree and TJ Watt -- released him to make room for an injured player to return, and he was presented with an opportunity to go to a place where he could play, he took it. No surprise he chose to sign with a longtime rival as opposed to re-signing with the Steelers. 

2) There's opportunity. Behind Trey Flowers on the edge, the Patriots have used rookie Deatrich Wise, former Bills practice squadder Eric Lee, and on Sunday they opted for speedy special-teams ace Marquis Flowers. While both Lee and Flowers have played well in the snaps they've been given, the depth at that end-slash-outside linebacker role has been lacking all season with Derek Rivers injured, Rob Ninkovich retired, and Kony Ealy playing for the Jets. We argued edge help was their primary need at the trade deadline, but they weren't able to bolster that spot then. This was their chance to add another experienced body to the mix. And while Harrison may not replace anyone one-for-one, he could steal snaps from a couple of his new teammates so that everyone's workload is more manageable. 

 

3) He's versatile enough. Harrison is a veteran of the Dick LeBeau zone-blitz scheme, which means he has a ton of experience getting after quarterbacks. Just ask the quarterbacks who helped him rack up 11 postseason sacks over the course of his career. He has a ton of experience setting the edge in the running game. Just ask Shaq Mason or Martellus Bennett, both of whom were beaten to the punch by Harrison in the run game during last year's AFC title game. But his time in Pittsburgh also means that -- even if he's not ideally suited to be stuck in coverage -- Harrison's spent plenty of time moving backwards. Those Steelers defenses dropped and rushed their ends to keep quarterbacks guessing, and the highlight of Harrison's career was made in coverage. The Patriots ask a lot of their ends, and though he may not be able to play 90 percent of the snaps the way he could a decade a go, he could do a little bit of everything in spurts.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE