Why the Steelers' locker room spoke out against James Harrison

PITTSBURGH -- The scene in the Steelers' locker room on Wednesday was jarring.

A player with five Pro Bowl appearances, two Super Bowl rings and 80.5 sacks typically would be celebrated by his former teammates as the door closes on an era.

Instead, linebacker James Harrison got excoriated from all angles.

Center Maurkice Pouncey and linebacker Bud Dupree were among players who spoke out about Harrison sabotaging his final year in Pittsburgh as a way out. Since that afternoon session, details from Dupree and others have painted Harrison as a malcontent, even a quitter.

Making sense of it all is still difficult, but a few pieces have come together.

Somehow, Harrison's discontent bubbled under the surface for months. Players say Harrison's 14th season in Pittsburgh was filled with missed practices, stadium departures over inactive statuses and even nap sessions through meetings. Harrison stayed mostly quiet over the last three months but gave one hint to DKPittsburghSports.com, telling the outlet he would have signed elsewhere had he known he would play a limited role.

In a drama-filled Steelers season that has exhausted the news cycle, this story never popped until Harrison was unceremoniously cut two days before Christmas. That's in part because the Steelers didn't want to leak internal problems and figured the front office would sort it out. Some players figured Harrison would have been cut much earlier than Week 16 of the season.

The emergence of linebacker T.J. Watt alongside Dupree ensured the inevitable unseating of the 39-year-old Harrison. The false assumption was that Harrison would slide into the mentor role, which he clearly didn't want to do. Still, he hid his intentions well, and even after his release, players spoke fondly about the famed pass-rusher following Monday's win at the Houston Texans.

But Harrison's signing with the New England Patriots motivated players to address the friction, not for the signing itself, but for what it represented: The Steelers looking foolish for filtering Harrison to a Super Bowl rival for no reason. The Steelers felt their front office was forced to cut Harrison and wanted to defend it. Most players didn't seem to care much that he signed in New England; he was a free agent who needed a job. How he got it was the issue.

"We're going to speak the truth, that's what it is," Pouncey said.

The depths of that truth have been shocking. The stories are flying from everywhere. The image of the franchise's leader leaving stadiums early -- word from the locker room is that he drove home from Cincinnati in a rental car -- is sort of ridiculous. But the Steelers made clear from training camp that Harrison would be, at best, a complementary player.

The lengths Harrison went to denounce that plan rankled more than a few Steelers who had hid their feelings until now. As one player pointed out, Harrison was mostly checked out since Week 4 at Baltimore, which is unfortunate, because he could have been a better teammate while he waited for clarity on his future.

Now he has it. And both parties would absolutely love to see each other on Jan. 21 in Foxborough or Pittsburgh.