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NFL notes: Patriots sign former Steelers linebacker James Harrison

James Harrison is no longer the odd man out or the oldest man in the locker room after the former Steelers star signed a one-year deal with the New England Patriots on Tuesday, three days after his unceremonious departure from Pittsburgh.

The 39-year-old linebacker posted a photo on Instagram showing himself with 40-year-old quarterback Tom Brady in New England’s locker room, writing that he finally has “a teammate that’s older than me!”

The AFC North champion Steelers released the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker and 2008 NFL defensive player of the year on Saturday to make room for right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who is returning from a suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy.

“We make the decisions we feel give us the very best chance to win,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday when asked why the team didn’t release a different player to make room for Gilbert. “We needed the people we kept. We needed to activate Marcus Gilbert. Really, it’s nothing more than that.”

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A day before, Tomlin had said following Pittsburgh’s 34-6 win over Houston that clinched a first-round playoff bye that difficult decisions such as this are “just life in football.”

To make room on their roster, the Patriots released linebacker Trevor Reilly.

Harrison, who is the Steelers’ career leader in sacks, piling up 80{ during his 14 seasons with the Steelers and 82{ during his career, briefly retired in September 2014 following a forgettable 2013 season in Cincinnati but returned when the Steelers ran into injury trouble.

He collected at least five sacks every season between 2014 and 2016 and signed a two-year deal last spring that would have kept him in Pittsburgh through his 40th birthday.

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But Harrison’s playing time dipped significantly this season — he has just one sack. He was active in just five games despite being injury-free and with the Steelers turning more toward outside linebackers Bud Dupree and rookie T.J. Watt.

The Patriots have been thin at defensive end and outside linebacker all season.

New England, which won the AFC East for a ninth consecutive season, can wrap up the AFC’s top seed with a win over the Jets this weekend or a loss by the Steelers, who host winless Cleveland.

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The Patriots and Steelers are both 12-3 and have wrapped up first-round byes. New England owns the tiebreaker by virtue of its 27-24 win at Pittsburgh on Dec. 17.

Harrison would get a chance to face his former team if the Patriots and Steelers meet in the conference championship for a rematch of last year’s title game, which New England won 36-17 on its way to its fifth Super Bowl title.

Only Pittsburgh, with six, owns more Super Bowl wins.

Etc.

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Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says coach Jason Garrett will return for an eighth full season after Dallas missed the playoffs in a year marred by the six-game suspension of star running back Ezekiel Elliott. Jones said on his radio show Tuesday that Garrett’s job “is not an issue here at all” while suggesting that there could be other changes to the coaching staff with several contracts expiring. Garrett has two years left on a five-year deal signed after Dallas won the NFC East in 2014. … Tennessee fans wanting to see Derrick Henry start at running back instead of DeMarco Murray will get their chance to see what that looks like in the Titans’ most important game of the season. Coach Mike Mularkey isn’t ruling Murray out of the Titans’ regular-season finale against Jacksonville on Sunday. Mularkey said Tuesday that the veteran will be limited at best if an injured knee allows him to play at all. …

The Denver Broncos will start Paxton Lynch in their season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs — providing he can play on his sprained left ankle that’s sidelined him for more than a month. “He wasn’t quite ready last week. Hopefully, he’s ready to go this week,” coach Vance Joseph said Tuesday. “That’s the plan to start Paxton this week.” … Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said that quarterback Kirk Cousins would start Sunday’s season finale at the New York Giants despite the potential of an injury and no postseason ramifications involved. “There’s no thought to that at all,” Gruden said on a conference call two days after the Redskins’ 27-11 win over the Denver Broncos. …

The Green Bay Packers will have another new starting right tackle for their season finale at Detroit after Jason Spriggs was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. Spriggs left following the first play from scrimmage in Green Bay’s 16-0 loss to Minnesota. Utility offensive lineman Justin McCray moved over from right guard to replace Spriggs and could take over at tackle on Sunday against the Lions. … The Buffalo Bills have placed receiver Andre Holmes and running back Travaris Cadet on season-ending injured reserve in a series of roster moves made before their season finale at Miami. Buffalo also released defensive tackle Deandre Coleman on Tuesday.


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