Projecting the Future of Pittsburgh Steelers Safety Troy Polamalu

By Curt Popejoy
Troy Polamalu
Jason Bridge-US Presswire

It doesn’t seem like it should be the tenth season for Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, but the numbers are there. And in his tenth year, I think with all that’s happened, there needs to be a discussion about Troy’s past with the franchise as well what is his future.

Polamalu was drafted in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft in a trade up to the 16th pick. It was a risky move and criticized by some. Personally, I’d have rather had the Steelers stay put and see what happens. Polamalu came into the league with the reputation as a big hitter; a Youtube video of him burying a Kansas State punt returner was sort of his calling card to most who didn’t see much USC football.

Once he got into the league he spent his rookie year as a reserve, to the chagrin of many Steelers fans who demanded a return on their investment. And for the next two seasons, we got that return in a big way. He was a ballhawk all over the field, sometimes seeming like there were three of him on the field at a time.

But starting in 2006, things started to take a turn. He missed three games that year and five the following, before returning for another full season in 2008. Moving ahead to 2009, he missed 11 starts with injury, and two the following year.

Just before the 2011 season, the Steelers gave Polamalu a contract extension through the 2014 season that’s going to pay him around $9 million per year, which is a huge salary for a safety, even one who doesn’t miss any time with injuries. But in 2011, he earned it, having what might have been his best statistical year, and a huge impact all season long.

But here we are in 2012, and Polamalu has missed three full games and part of another, and we’re only five games in. Polamalu’s status for the remainder of the season will be in question as his break neck style, and almost reckless abandon for his own body, that tends to “ding” him up, even though in some cases it isn’t enough to keep him off the field.

I realize that for the remainder of this season the Steelers will just have to eat his $9 million and hope they can get something out of him, but in the offseason, with two more years left, what do they do?

I see it the Steelers really have three choices for what to do at the end of this season.

1-They can do nothing. With two years left on his extension they could let this season come and go, hope he’s well and have him play in 2013, and decide what to do in terms of an extension/re-structure at that point.

2-They could negotiate a more cap friendly deal at the end of the season. Polamalu has always preached team first, so see if he’ll take one for the team here, considering how much time he’s missed. Work his deal into 2015 or 2016 but with a much lower number. This would keep him on the team at a discount and give the Steelers a chance to find a replacement.

3-They could cut him. I think I read somewhere that his actual cap hit for those final two seasons is somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.5 million per, but I don’t make a claim of being a cap-ologist. Any changes I consider, I don’t work into the cap number as much as I do making the team more talented. The front office might be holding back moving forward at safety because Polamalu is still on the roster.

What would I do? I’d probably try and re-work his deal, add a year or two and try and get the cap number down as far as possible. I completely acknowledge that when he’s well, he’s still a very good football player, but at some point, this defensive secondary has to be younger and more athletic, and while he’s had a tremendous impact on the Steelers the past decade, all good things must come to an end.

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