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Should the Pittsburgh Steelers Trade Troy Polamalu?
Through the brimming optimism of a new year and a fresh start, nobody is sure what to expect from Troy Polamalu in 2013. The Pittsburgh Steelers star safety sits at a career crossroads. He still flashes the playmaking ability that made him so beloved in the SteelCity yet a number of factors have begun to work against him.
James Harrison departure signals youth movement
NFL teams in general hate the words “getting old” when referencing their roster. That is why they strive so hard every year to add talented young players so as to maintain a degree of consistent success. Pittsburgh was masterful at that for years, replacing star talent with younger star talent. Over the past couple seasons though things have slowed down. Age crept up on the Steelers, partly because of success. Their team, particularly the defense was so good for so long that there was no great hurry to change things by inserting new players. That process has since started, but at a cost. The team watched linebacker James Harrison leave for Cincinnati and receiver Mike Wallace head off to Miami. Pittsburgh has worked hard to find replacements with rookies like Jarvis Jones and Markus Wheaton but it has left other units in need of help by the wayside. Among them is safety.
Shamarko Thomas trade signals worry about Troy
By far the most troubling part of the draft wasn’t that they failed to find a defensive tackle or defensive end until the seventh round. It was the fact they gave up a third round pick in the 2014 draft to move up in the fourth round to take Shamarko Thomas. A hard-hitting safety out of Syracuse, Thomas definitely represents the worries of the Steelers organization about Polamalu’s future. At age 32 he isn’t too old and as a seven-time Pro Bowler one would think he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Yet after watching the star safety since their Super Bowl season in 2008 the injuries have begun to catch up to him.
Not only does he suffer from chronic concussion issues, but also a lingering calf problem that hasn’t gone away for going on four years. Dating back to 2009 he has missed 22 games. After topping at least 50 tackles every season between 2004 and 2008, he has done twice in the last four. That speaks to a player who is still good but is starting to noticeably slow down. Pittsburgh still believes he can do great things for them. The lingering question is how will the calf hold up and is he one hit away from another concussion?
Ben Roethlisberger and the salary cap squeeze
Another thing working against him is a classic problem for veteran teams. There are too many big contracts. The Steelers have one of the worst salary cap problems in the NFL, which explains why so many of their key players from last year are gone. Polamalu can’t hide from that either. His contract brings a $10 million cap hit in 2013 and even more in 2014. A few years ago this wasn’t a problem. Then the team handed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a new eight-year, $102 million deal. Looking ahead his monstrous contract will eat up $13 million this season and $17 million the next. Pittsburgh has to start filling out the roster with cheaper young talent if they hope to stay competitive. That means picking out veterans who have to go whether because they’re too old or simply too expensive. Polamalu may be both.
Aside from swallowing his money and letting him play, the Steelers can either choose to release him after this season or try to trade him. In order for the latter to happen, they would have to deal him before the Week 8 trade deadline because no teams will offer something for a player in the last year of his contract.
Polamalu still can dominate football games when he’s healthy. While a high round draft pick is out of the question, the Steelers could collect a third round choice from the right team. It would likely be one with a 3-4 defense that can make proper use of his excellent instinct. The Indianapolis Colts, Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints all come to mind. Obviously it isn’t as easy as that. Still, if Pittsburgh believes Polamalu can’t play at a high level anymore than the sooner they unload him, the better.