The Pittsburgh Steelers have found themselves in a bit of a dilemma with one of their veteran players this off-season. Safety Ryan Clark is supposed to make $3.5 million in the final season of his four-year, $14 million contract. Are the Steelers going to be forced to release one of their top defensive backs of the past several years?
The problem Pittsburgh is facing is that the organization is strapped for money and at the edge of their salary cap. Ideally, the Steelers will move other players to create cap room so that they do not have to cut ties with Clark. There are several positions in which the team has enough depth that they can afford to lose a few guys here and there.
Would it be easier just to release Clark to save the $3.5 million instead of trying to figure out who is worthy of the black and yellow? Yes, but then Pittsburgh would be missing a crucial part of the defense. Let’s face the facts: Clark has been playing at a high level the past few seasons. In fact, most would say that he is a better last line of defense then Troy Polamalu has been in recent years (injuries not withstanding) and they would be right.
Clark is the leader of one of the best secondaries in the NFL. The Steelers had the best opponent passing yards per game (185.2) and held the opposition to the least amount of 20-yard plays or more (31). In 2012, Clark posted 102 combined tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and defended seven passes. Those 102 tackles ranked second in the AFC and fifth in the NFL among defensive backs. Clark is also one of only two other safeties to record at least 100 tackles in both 2011 and 2012.
Releasing the 33-year-old in the last year of his contract is an easy financial fix for a management team, but it is a terrible idea for the football team. Without Clark, Pittsburgh can expect those fantastic defensive statistics to drop like a ton of bricks.