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Steelers players say James Harrison wanted out

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of the Pittsburgh Steelers of the Oakland Raiders during the game at Heinz Field on November 8, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Justin K. Aller

Linebacker James Harrison signed with the Patriots on Tuesday in a move that came a few days after he was placed on waivers by the Steelers.

The Steelers activated tackle Marcus Gilbert in a corresponding move and coach Mike Tomlin said that sometimes “you’ve got to make tough decisions” in football. That suggested the decision to part ways started with the Steelers, but a couple of Harrison’s former teammates said otherwise on Wednesday.

Linebacker Bud Dupree said, via Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, that he doesn’t want the media to portray Harrison as a victim because he “chose to leave.” Center Maurkice Pouncey said Harrison “erased his own legacy” by signing with New England and backed up Dupree’s comment about how the veteran’s departure came about.

“He wanted to go. It’s funny to read the stories,” Pouncey said, via Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s something he wanted to do. He needs to come out and admit that. If you don’t want to be here just come out and say it. Don’t make it seem like it is the team’s decision. You think the team wants to get rid of James Harrison? Come on now! The team didn’t do anything. If I wanted out I wouldn’t let the team take the blame. That’s me as a man. I’m glad the team is being respectful. But we are going to speak the truth.”

Multiple other reports from the Steelers locker room on Wednesday carried a similar message about Harrison’s desire to leave the team in recent weeks.

Harrison signed a two-year deal with the Steelers in the offseason and said over the summer that he was fine with playing the reduced role on defense. As reported by Michele Tafoya of NBC Sports recently, however, the reduction was more than Harrison expected and one that would have led him to pass on a deal with Pittsburgh if he’d known that’s how it would go. So it’s no secret he was unhappy, although that doesn’t seem to have changed Harrison’s teammates’ view on his exit.