"We have informed James Harrison that we have released him," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a written statement. "James has been an integral part of our success during his years in Pittsburgh and has helped us win two Lombardi trophies during that time. We appreciate all of his efforts and wish him the best."
Harrison has been one of the most feared, most fined and most vocal defenders in the league. He went to five consecutive Pro Bowls between 2007 and 2011 and was a first-team All Pro as recently as 2010. Harrison was the prototypical outside linebacker, causing havoc when the Steelers' defense was one of the league's best. Harrison had 60 sacks between 2007 and 2012 but just six last season and nine in 2011.
"We just couldn't come to terms with something (the Steelers) were comfortable with and I was comfortable with," Harrison said on an interview on "NFL Total Access." "It's a business, and we had to part ways."
Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, told Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette, "It breaks our heart."
Injuries kept Harrison out of eight games the last two seasons. Plus, his age (34) and a $10 million salary-cap number precipitated the move. The Steelers wanted to restructure Harrison's deal with much of the money being tied to incentives, NFL.com's Aditi Kinkhabwala reported. Harrison wanted more cash to be guaranteed.
Coach Mike Tomlin told people around the facility that both sides put in work to reach an agreement, according to Kinkhabwala. He's confident Harrison will continue to play at a high level for at least one more year.
"James has played a major role in the success of this organization during his time in Pittsburgh," Tomlin said in the release. "I appreciate everything he has done in my six years as head coach and wish him nothing but the best in the future."
Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were one of the top outside linebacker tandems in recent NFL history. The Steelers' defense is predicated on having dominant pass rushers at those positions. It was no surprise the unit lost some of its bite without Harrison. Those are big shoes that need to be filled.
As for Harrison, he doesn't know where he might play in 2013.
"I definitely have three years left, possibly four, but I'm going where the wind blows," he said. "You obviously want to play for a Super Bowl contender, that's the first thing. Good weather, that wouldn't be a bad thing. ... I'm not closed to playing for any team or any area."Follow Kareem Copeland on Twitter @kareemcopeland.