James Harrison believes the NFL's crackdown on dangerous hits is cramping his style. And, unless Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin can convince him otherwise, the 32-year-old linebacker claimed Tuesday night that he might consider retirement.
Hours after he was fined Tuesday, Harrison appeared on Fox Sports Radio's "Into The Night with Tony Bruno" and told guest host Jody McDonald that his first stop Wednesday morning will be in Tomlin's office.
"I'm going to sit down and have a serious conversation with my coach tomorrow and see if I can actually play by NFL rules and still be effective," Harrison said. "If not, I may have to give up playing football."
Harrison was one of three players punished Tuesday by the NFL for helmet-to-helmet hits. He was fined $25,000 more than New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather and Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson were because the league considered Harrison a repeat offender. He was fined $5,000 for slamming Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young to the turf during the Steelers' Sept. 19 victory.
Harrison, the 2008 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a three-time Pro Bowl pick, rammed headfirst into Massaquoi as the receiver tried to complete a catch during the second quarter. Massaquoi briefly crumpled to the turf but was soon on his feet, although he didn't return to the game.
Earlier in the game, Harrison sidelined Browns wide receiver Joshua Cribbs with a helmet-first hit that caused a concussion. The NFL said Monday that tackle was permissible because Cribbs was a runner on the Wildcat play, and that hit didn't factor into Harrison's fine. He wasn't penalized on either play.
Tomlin publicly backed Harrison on Tuesday morning before the fine was announced, saying the linebacker made "legal hits, not fineable hits." The coach also downplayed Harrison's postgame comments that he tries to hurt, not injure, opponents because it increases the Steelers' chances of winning.
"I didn't see those comments, but I know James," Tomlin said. "James says a lot of things he doesn't necessarily mean. He's a tough talker, like a lot of guys that play the game at this level. If you want to get to know James, catch him on a Tuesday when he's walking through the building with his son. He's a big softie."
Now Tomlin must talk down Harrison, who sounded frustrated by a punishment that his agent, Bill Parise, called "staggering." Parise said Harrison would appeal the fine.
"I really truly hope it's something that can be done," Harrison told Fox Sports Radio. "But the way that things were being explained to me today and the reasoning for it, I don't feel I can continue to play and be effective and, like I say, not have to worry about injuring someone else or risking injury to myself."
Harrison later added that if a solution can't be reached, "I'm going to have to try and find a way that I may possibly get out of whatever agreement I agreed to with the Steelers."
That agreement is a six-year, $51.175 million contract that he signed last year and contains low base salaries in the early portion. Harrison is making $44,411.76 in base salary per game this season, so the $75,000 fine equates to nearly two checks.
Massaquoi's agent, Brian Ayrault, doesn't believe even that's enough.
"Harrison has made $20 million over the past three years, and they only fined him $75,000?" Ayrault said. "To me, that's not going to be a deterrent. The Browns are probably going to be without a starter this week. I don't think that fine is a deterrent or fair to competitive balance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.