James Harrison’s time in Cincinnati, much like his time on the field, was shorter than expected as the Bengals released the veteran linebacker to free agency Thursday afternoon.
The 36-year-old Harrison signed a two-year deal last offseason and was the only big splash the team made in free agency, but he played less than a third of the defensive snaps in 2013.
But the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year and five-time Pro Bowler played a role in the continued development of the young linebackers on the roster such as Vontaze Burfict and Vinny Rey.
“It was great for our coaches, players and fans to have James on our team last year,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “He’s a player everyone looks up to because of his ability, his accomplishments and his drive to be the best. He helped us win a division title with his play and with the example he set.
“It’s time for us to go a different direction now, with some younger guys, but we will all still reap benefits from having had James with us as a Bengal last year.”
In addition to the emergence of Burfict and Rey, the Bengals will return Emmanuel Lamur, for whom they had big plans in 2013 before he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the preseason finale against Indianapolis.
Rey is a restricted free agent, which means the Bengals can match any offer from another team.
The Bengals also have five other linebackers with less than two years of experience, including special teams dynamo Jayson DiManche and Sean Porter, last year’s fourth-round pick.
Harrison finished the season with 40 tackles, including two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.
Prior to the official announcement of his release, he went on Twitter to thank the fans, Tweeting: “Many thanks to all the @Bengals fans for your support over the last year - I had a great time in Cincinnati.”
Earlier in the week the Bengals cut another veteran in seven-year center Kyle Cook.
Collins bolts: According to published reports in Tampa, Bengals free agent tackle Anthony Collins has agreed to a contract with the Buccaneers, where he will join former Cincinnati teammate Michael Johnson.
Collins played in 60 games in his five seasons with the Bengals. He appeared in all but one game last year and started eight while not allowing a sack.