One of the many “under the radar” free agents the Pittsburgh Steelers must make a difficult choice on is none other than safety Robert Golden.
[Editor’s note: The Steelers resigned Robert Golden on March 7th. Click here for more.]
Capsule Profile of Robert Golden’s Career with the Steelers
Has there ever been a player who has played his entire NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and reached free agency with a lower profile than Robert Golden? Perhaps, but the list would be a short one.
Robert Golden made the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012 and did something that few rookies, even draft picks, did under Dick LeBeau’s system – he saw time with the Steelers starting defense. To be sure, Golden’s snap count was a low 46, but the fact that he got time at all was revealing.
The with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark aging, the word was that the Steelers where high on Golden going into 2013, but his development took a back seat to the team’s desire to get Shamarko Thomas on the field, and Will Allen’s return.
Unable to get a helmet with the secondary, Golden made a name on special teams during the next two seasons, including completing a 25 yard pass to Antwon Blake on a fake punt in the 2014 season opening win over Cleveland.
That changed for Golden in 2015, as Shamarko Thomas’ benching and injuries to Will Allen led to Robert Golden playing in 33% of the Steelers defensive snaps in 2015, per Pro Football reference. (Video available as of 3/1/2016):
While no one would confuse Golden with being the second coming of Troy Polamalu, he did make his first NFL interception in the Steelers regular season win over Cincinnati, and his 27 yard return set up DeAngelo Williams insurance touchdown.
The Case for Steelers Keeping Robert Golden
Why didn’t Robert Golden see more time with Steelers secondary sooner? It is hard to say, but the Steelers motive could be rooted in a change of heart by Mike Tomlin. Mike Tomlin played Ryan Mundy every chance he got in 2010, 2011, and at the beginning of 2012 with an eye towards grooming him as a starter.
- He took a similar track with Shamarko Thomas early in 2013, but kept Thomas on a much shorter leash.
In both cases, Will Allen surpassed Mundy and then Thomas as “The next man up” and the trend continued in 2014 as Golden only saw 4 snaps with the Steelers defense. Yet in 2015, Golden passed Thomas on the depth chart. Fans didn’t hear his name too often, but with a safety that can be a good thing.
The Steelers need help at safety, even if Will Allen does return. Shamarko Thomas clearly isn’t the answer, and Robert Golden knows the system and will only be 26 years old.
The Case Against Steelers Keeping Robert Golden
The operative phrase above is “the Steelers need help at safety.” Robert Golden might be a serviceable playing, but is he the playmaker they need? So far there’s scant evidence to support such a claim. With Mike Mitchell the Steelers have one quality safety, they need another quality safety to start along side Mitchell, and at least one more on the bench.
Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Robert Golden
In some cases the pro’s and con’s match up fairly evenly, in others not so much. Robert Golden is an example of the latter.
As Jim Wexell observed on Steel City Insider, the Golden showed he could play both safety slots for the Steelers, and interchangeability at safety is important to the Steelers defense. He can also function as a in the box safety in the Steelers Dime defense. And he’s a special teams captain.
- The Steelers also have a distinct advantage over the rest of the NFL here.
The Steelers have seen a lot more of Robert Golden than has the rest of the NFL. He’s had enough tape to prove he can do it in big games, but he has not assembled the type of resume to command big dollars on the free agent market.
Dare we say, Pittsburgh has a golden opportunity here, and Steelers Nation should hope and can reasonably expect see the headline “Steelers resign free agent Robert Golden” in the fairly near future.
Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section.