Free Agency in Pittsburgh generally boils down to setting down roots or saying goodbye much more than it is about laying out the welcome mat.
Ryan Clark, however, is one player who appears will work though the full cycle. And if his Tweets are any guide, he’s completely at peace with it:
I know Coach T likes to give numbers away quickly. If I am gone I wonder who’ll wear 25. Hope he plays offense
— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) February 18, 2014
Capsule Profile of Ryan Clark with the Steelers
Shortly after Super Bowl XL, the Steelers made it clear that Chris Hope would be allowed to walk in free agency. With no heir apparent behind him, Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert dipped into the free agent market, and made one of the best decisions the team has ever made, by signing Ryan Clark for the Washington Redskins.
The smart money during that 2006 off season held that Clark was more or less coming to Pittsburgh as a placeholder, a veteran brought in to made the free safety spot while a younger player matured. The Steelers drafted Anthony Smith that spring, and his athletic talent showed that he was that younger player. Alas, he never matured.
- And had he matured the Steelers would have had a tough situation on their hands, as Ryan Clark turned out to be far more than a place holder.
He quickly grew into a vocal team leader and a hell raiser on the field. It was Clark who made the game-changing plays in the AFC Divisional Playoff vs. Baltimore, and during 2011 and 2012 Clark was arguably the Steelers defensive MVP and most certainly one of the NFL’s most defensive underrated players.
The Case for Keeping Clark
Until proven otherwise, the possibility exists, at least theoretically, that the Steelers could bring back Clark. Why would they do so?
First, there’s Clark’s leadership. He clearly has the respect in the locker room and know’s what’s going on. When Antoino Brown and Ike Taylor were coming to blows just a little too often during 2012 training camp, it was Clark (and Ben Roethlisberger) who brought the two together.
And despite being 34, Clark’s tackle total clocked in at 104, second only to Lawrence Timmons. He also recovered 1 fumble and notched two interceptions. Clearly Clark has something left in the tank…
The Case for Letting Clark Walk
…Having something left in the tank does not mean that Clark hasn’t slowed a step. And in fact, in 2013 it looked like he had. Whereas in 2011 and 2012 Clark’s number 25 seemed to be visible on almost every defensive play, including more than a few tackles behind the line of scrimmage, that was less so in 2013.
- The Steelers secondary needs to begin renewing itself, and the expiration of Clark’s contract would seem to be a very logical place to start.
There’s also the issue of Clark’s outspokenness.
While that has generally been a plus during his time in Pittsburgh, Clark is never afraid of making controversial statements about the league or the team (see his comments about marijuana usage). While they’ve kept mum in public, those with access to sources say that the Steelers management has tired of it.
Then there’s the question of cost. While not ruling out home town discount, Clark flat out said he would not play for the league minimum, which would seem to be the only way he’d find a spot on the roster.
Curtain’s Call on Clark
But now it’s time for Clark to complete that cycle and either depart as a free agent or begin his life’s work, which seem to involve the initials ESPN.