Steelers Free Agent Safety Will Allen highlights one of the most interesting choices Pittsburgh must make this off season. And that’s fitting because Will Allen has had an interesting ride with the Steelers.
Steel Curtain Risings Steelers 2015 Free Agent Focus takes a look.
Capsule Profile of Will Allen’s Career with the Steelers
- At the time the Steelers secondary was reeling.
The unit had played most of 2009 without Troy Polamalu. At first it was Polamalu’s big play ability that was so sorely lacking. Then as the Steelers 5 game losing streak mounted, the group lost all confidence.
- By the end of 2009, the Steelers secondary suffered from sheer shell shock
The Steelers faced some important decisions. Tyrone Carter was set to begin “Life’s Work.” Ryan Clark was a free agent who wanted to stay with the team, but wished to get paid. While Clark was visiting Miami, Mike Tomlin signed Will Allen, a safety whom he had coached while in Tampa.
We now know that Tomlin wasn’t trying to pressure Clark, but it sure looked like it at the time. Then an interesting thing happened with Will Allen.
Seriously. During 2010 and 2011 Will Allen largely slipped off of the radar. He played primarily on special teams. But when Troy Polamalu was injured Ryan Mundy got the nod. When the Steelers suffered their Tebowing at Denver, with Ryan Clark out due to the sickle cell trait, it was Mundy who got the nod. When injuries limited Polamalu early in 2012, Mundy again got the nod.
- Will Allen remained on the bench.
That changed with the Steelers first disaster at Oakland’s Black Hole.
Mundy if you’ll remember, laid in a vicious hit on a Raider. It was the kind of hit that would have made Lee Flowers or Myron Bell proud. And that’s the problem because the NFL was already legislating those hits out of the game.
- From that point onward, Will Allen was the “next man up” in the Steelers safety rotation, and the Steelers defense improved because of it.
Going into the Steelers 2013 off season, Allen looked like the type of player the Steelers could get back if they wanted back. But the Steelers were in salary cap purgatory, and Allen got an offer to start in Dallas. He took it.
- But his trip to the Lone Star state did not last long.
The Cowboys cut him after 5 games and two starts, and before he could clear out his locker, Allen was back on the South Side. Again, this time Allen made more of a splash on the Steelers defense, coming up with a critical interception in the Steelers comeback win over Detroit.
Allen didn’t get an official start in 2013, but his play contributed to the improvement of the defense and he helped the team claw its way back from its 2-6 start. The Steelers resigned Allen in 2014.
Allen appeared in all 16 games, and started the season’s final four contests. While it would be horrendously injust to the likes of Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Vince Williams, Lawrence Timmons and other outstanding Steelers defenders, the record will show that those four games represented the best effort of both the Steelers defense and the secondary.
The Case for Keeping Will Allen
A lot of what the Steelers decide to do with Will Allen will likely depend on what happens with Troy Polamalu. The Steelers look to have a much younger secondary in 2015, and the safeties are no exception. Mike Mitchell will be in his second year. Robert Golden and Shamarko Thomas are unknown commodities.
- Either Polamalu or Allen can provide veteran depth.
It’s unlikely that the Steelers can or will use roster spots on both men.
Troy Polamalu is a Hall of Famer. He is a living legend. Will Allen on his best day has no hope of living up to that standard. But Polamalu’s best days are behind him. Allen’s also much closer to retirement than he is his rookie year but he’s 2 years younger than Polamalu.
Allen doesn’t give the Steelers a superstar in the secondary, but he does give them stability. That’s something the Steelers need, and a strong argument for keeping Will Allen in Pittsburgh.
The Case Against Keeping Will Allen
The inherent ugliness of forcing Troy Polamalu a la Franco Harris or Rod Woodson out has already been discussed. If Polamalu’s willing to accept a pay cut and perhaps a reduced (read backup) role and the team needs to choose then Polamlau’s going to win.
- Beyond that, signing Allen now will likely imply offering some sort of bonus, and the Steelers don’t have cap room to spare.
Signing Allen would likely cost the Steelers a roster spot which could be used to draft and develop a younger safety (or corner) who, while he’ll lack Allen’s experience, will have far more upside and athleticism.
Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Will Allen
If Allen was good enough to play in front of presumed starter Shamarko Thomas in 2014 then he should still be good enough to play behind him in 2015. Allen isn’t going to command a lot of money, and this is a secondary that is going to need veteran leadership.
If Troy Polamalu makes it easy for the Steelers and retires – and we’ve seen no indication that he will – then Allen should and most likely will be back. If Polamalu wants to give it one more go, then things could get interesting.