Tamba Hali should be the NFL pass rusher creating a shadow

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 02: Michael Vick /

James Harrison retired on Monday and the NFL is rightly singing his praises, but it also serves to show that Tamba Hali deserves much more fanfare.

The National Football League is abuzz on Monday morning about the career accomplishments of James Harrison after the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker announced his retirement. They should be. Harrison was a late bloomer in the league who turned into a dominating performer on a Super Bowl winner, a pass rusher who showcased his considerable skills under the brightest lights. There wasn’t an NFL fan who didn’t see James Harrison do James Harrison-like things.

That last line that not only highlights why everyone is serving up their own remembrances of Harrison’s career but it also reveals why another incredible pass rusher has yet to receive the same spotlight. When Harrison retires, the news cycle pauses and analysts left and right take turns fawning over his greatest moments—again, as they should, since Harrison was a truly great player. Will they treat Tamba Hali with the same reverence? We’d all like to believe so, but we also know the answer is “not likely.”

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At this point, Hali is a veteran free agent, set free this offseason by the Kansas City Chiefs after a couple disappointing seasons affected by injuries. Whether or not he will retire might hinge on whether or not he will catch on with another team. It’s likely a decision we won’t hear until next August, when Hali will likely receive any/all offers from potential franchises. If those offers are not there, however, and he’s ready to call it quits, here’s hoping the NFL will sound a trumpet just as loud as they are currently for Harrison.

Harrison’s numbers deserve plenty of fanfare, but Hali deserves an equal share of the spotlight. Harrison retired with 84.5 sacks in his career, while Hali has 5 more than that in three fewer seasons (15 to 12). Hali also has just 1 fewer forced fumble (33) than Harrison (34). Harrison holds a significant edge in passes defended (26 to 16) and defensive touchdowns (9 to 3), all of which is a result of the Steelers dropping Harrison into coverage at a much higher rate than Hali over his career.

A closer look at the splits of each player shows that Hali turned on the juice down the stretch, with 27 of his career sacks coming in the month of December, the highest of any single month, whereas Harrison enjoyed his strongest months in November and October. A sack is a sack no matter when it comes and that’s not to downplay the value of anything Harrison did, but it does serve to show that Hali came on stronger as the season wore on and that 16 games typically separates the good from the great.

If anything, the lack of postseason wins is what will keep Hali from enjoying the same league-wide farewell in the end. Hali came on strong in December, but was hardly ever able to continue that momentum into January, while Harrison has an entire highlight reel of plays made in the playoffs. Here’s hoping Hali gets his due outside of Chiefs Kingdom, but if nothing else, those on the inside will know and remember that he was truly the class of the NFL.