Steelers Salary Cap Bubble: Troy Polamalu Poses a Perplexing Choice

Troy Polamalu is of course not a free agent, but he enters 2014 with a very large salary cap number leading many to speculate about his future with the team.

Capsule Profile of Polamalu with the Steelers

The Steelers traded up during 2003 NFL Draft to pick Troy Polamalu and Kevin Colbert has never made a better draft day deal. In fact the only other Steelers draft day deal approaching this caliber is Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher’s deal to ship off a second round pick for Jerome Bettis in 1996.

Polamalu has simply had a Hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and earned the right to have his name mentioned along side the likes of Ernie Stautner, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, Donnie Shell, Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake, Joey Porter, James Harrison and other franchise defensive legends.

The Case for Keeping Troy Polamalu

The Troy Polamalu of 2013 wasn’t the Troy of 2010 or 2008. But he was still far better than most players at his position – whether that position was safety, inside linebacker, or some other hybrid slot that only he could man. And he accounted for roughly have of the team’s turnovers. And if Polamalu doesn’t quite pack the explosive punch he did before, he is still capable of game changing plays.

While the Steelers do need to get younger in the secondary, Ryan Clark is 99.99% certain to be gone. While Shamarko Thomas did get some valuable snaps in 2013, two new starting safeties could amount to too much turnover.

The Case for Cutting Troy

The Steelers need cap space, and at $10.88 million Polamalu has the third highest number outside of Ben Roethlisberger and LaMarr Woodley. Even if the Troy of 2014 plays at the same level as the Troy of 2013 that statement must come with the caveat, “When healthy.”

Troy stayed health for all of 2013, to the defense’s benefit. But the last time Polamalu played two 16 game seasons back to back? 2004 and 2005.

Deciding to bring back Polamalu amounts to a roll of the dice. At best they could be overpaying for a quality but no longer exceptional player, at worst his game started total could stay in single digits. That’s a lot to pay someone with a salary cap value.

Curtain’s Call

The Pittsburgh Steelers quite simply need to find a way for Troy Polamalu to stay around in 2014. Yes, the risk of renegotiating is real. But so is the potential for reward. And he has simply meant too much to this franchise to finish his career with the team on any terms other than his own.

In all likelihood, the Steelers and Polamalu will find a way to make it work.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2014 Free Agent Focus.

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