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Steelers position review - Safety

March 27, 2011 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

This is Part 2 of our Steelers position review series.  If you haven’t read Part 1, please click the link below.

Steelers position review - Cornerbacks

We started with the cornerbacks.  In this installment, we’re going to look at the other defensive back position; the safeties.

Safety is a unique position for the Steelers.  Most fans view it as a strength.  After all, Troy Polamalu plays safety.  He’s the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  But the reality is that safety is actually a weakness for the Steelers.  And it’s a weakness that needs to be addressed.

Just think about what the team looks like when Troy is NOT in the game.  Suddenly, the safeties look just as pathetic as the cornerbacks.  Even Ryan Clark looks terrible when Troy’s not in the game.  Troy’s presence just covers up the shortcomings of the other players.  That’s why most fans (and websites) don’t list safety as a weakness for the Steelers.  But it is.  So let’s break it down.

Ryan Clark had a career year in 2010.  He had more tackles than he’s ever had in his career.  That was partially because Troy Polamalu missed games and Clark had to pick up some of the slack.  But it was also because there were so many receivers running wild in the Steelers’ defensive backfield that the cornerbacks and safeties had to make a lot of tackles.

Clark will be 32 years old next season.  That’s definitely not a good thing.  He’s much closer to the end of his career than the beginning.  He probably has 1 or two years left.  And those will likely be years in which he’s in decline.

Ryan Clark’s backup is Ryan Mundy.  This will be Mundy’s third year with the team.  During that time, he’s started a grand total of 2 games.  When he has played, he’s often been more of a liability than an asset.  Some of that was obviously due to inexperience, but does anyone feel comfortable with the idea of Mundy as a starter?  Neither do I.

Even if Mundy did look like a potential starter, he’s a free agent this year.  He’s been primarily a special teams player during his time on the team, and I don’t know if the Steelers view signing him as a priority.  They can likely get someone just as good in free agency, and can probably find a better long-term solution in the draft.

So the free safety position is going to need retooling soon.  And it’s better to do it while Ryan Clark is still with the team.  That makes it a priority in the short-term.

The backup at strong safety is Will Allen.  Like Mundy, Allen’s primary contribution has been on special teams.   2011 will be Allen’s eighth season in the NFL.  All but one of those years has been as a backup.  So it is highly unlikely that Allen is suddenly going to develop the skills needed to be a starter in the NFL.  If he had that potential, it would have shown itself 5 years ago.

Thus, the Steelers have two backup safeties who haven’t shown the potential to be starters, and two starters who will both be 30 or older this year.  Are you starting to see why I say that safety is a need position for the Steelers?

Finally, we have Troy Polamalu.  As I menti0ned earlier, Polamalu is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  He may be the best safety in the NFL.  But Troy’s playing days will come to an end someday, and the Steelers need to prepare for that day.

Safety Troy Polamalu

Troy will be 30 years old next month.  That may not sound so old, but Troy plays with reckless abandon.  The way that he throws his body around must make him age in dog years.

Troy has only managed to play a complete season once in the past 5 years.  He was on the field during the playoffs and Super Bowl this year, but Steelers fans know that he didn’t really play.  He was too injured to make a difference.  He was just out there acting as a decoy.

Will Troy be 100% healthy next year?  Maybe.  But we all know that the body doesn’t heal as quickly or as completely as we get older (just ask Aaron Smith).  So Troy may or may not be his old self in 2011.

Here’s a radical thought that I know Steelers fans are going to hate, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway.  One of the things that I respect about the New England Patriots is their willingness to trade aging veterans in order to retool for the future.  No team does it better than them.  That’s one of the reason that they always seem to have 2-3 picks in the first round of every draft.  So what would happen if the Steelers stole a page from the Patriots.  Troy is coming off of an amazing season in which he was recognized as being the best defensive player in the NFL.  When will his value ever be higher than it is now?  So what do you think the Steelers could get back in a trade for him?  Two first round picks?  Perhaps a first round pick and a top-notch veteran player?  If Troy were the bait, players who seemed out of reach for the Steelers (like Patrick Peterson) suddenly become a possibility.  Think about it.

I know that I’m going to get hate mail for even suggesting that the Steelers trade Troy.  I’ve been doing  this long enough to know that nothing stirs up the ire of Steeler Nation more than saying something negative about Troy Polamalu.  But I had to at least mention the idea.  It’s what the Patriots would do.  And I think it’s worth discussing.

So the Steelers have two aging veteran starters at safety, and two backups who are never likely to be starters in the NFL.  Oh yeah, and one of those backups is a free agent.  Now do you see why I say that safety is a position of need for the Steelers?

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17 Comments to “Steelers position review - Safety”

  1. The only way Troy gets traded is if some team throws up a ridiculous offer. Also, I don’t think anyone can trade during the lockout. It’s fun to speculate, but it’s very unlikely.

    I don’t think this year’s draft is very strong at the safety position. There seems to be lots of mid round guys we could take a look at. Troy and Clark should hold up for a little while longer. Someone to groom would be great if they’re available, but I don’t think that there will be a safety worth the pick in the early rounds.

    Also: does anyone else think that Lebeau needs to have a plan (scheme wise) in place for when Troy goes down? It bothers me that our D loses so much without him.

  2. Dan,
    You’re correct that we can’t trade until a new CBA is reached. Furthermore, I don’t think the Steelers would EVER trade Troy. Kevin Colbert would be run out of town if he did that. But it’s fun to consider possibilities that DO EXIST, even if the Steelers would never pursue them.

    At this point, I’m just looking at the Steelers needs. I’m not addressing what players are available to fill those needs. That is going to be the next series after I finish the roster analysis.

    And yes, I absolutely agree with you that Dick LeBeau needs a better plan for when Troy is not in the lineup. His scheme relies on Troy to be Troy. But when Troy’s not in there, or is too hurt to play like Troy, LeBeau’s scheme suddenly looks very vulnerable.

  3. I agree they’ll never trade Troy. There is a certain chemistry that wouldn’t allow them to do that. The Pats are a different animal. And interesting thought though.

    I’m not sure what kind of scheme LeBeau can come up with. They have been using Troy to make up for their weakness at CB. When Troy goes down there is nothing left; they are exposed for the below average secondary that they are.

    Sort of like if you get a flat tire. Then you put on the donut and then ANOTHER tire blows. Sounds like it’s time to get a few new tires.

  4. Sometimes it seems like the Steelers have been operating with their cupboards empty- meaning we have few young up n coming players (with pardons to our WRs, Mendenhall & Ziggy.) Focusing on DB’s since 2000, we have drafted: Poteat, Troy, Colclough, McFadden, Glover, Taylor, Smith, Gay, Mundy, Lewis, Burnett & Butler. Hope (2) Troy (1) Colclough(2nd), Smith (3rd), McFadden (2nd) & Lewis(3rd) were high picks. So it hurts when they don’t work out or we let them go (Hope). Goes to show how important the draft is to us vs other teams who trade more. I prefer our culture but it puts a lot of pressure on the inexact science of predicting the future. I expect that we will add two DB’s - one early and one later-assuming we keep Ike. More if we don’t plus heavy on the non-drafted FA’s. Lewis, Gay & McFadden will be fighting for roster spots and Butler will get a long hard look.

  5. Don,

    I have to disagree on the hypothetical. I think Belichick has been too clever for his own good. Yes, he has a 1st and 3rd in this year’s draft but he only has 2 one & done’s to show for it - and Brady turns 34 this year. Selling out the present for the future is NOT a good idea when you have a HoF QB. I would agree that they didn’t miss Moss that much but the loss of Seymour has been very clear (especially in the 2010 playoff loss to the Ravens).

    You only trade a star like Seymour or Polamalu if you are in complete rebuilding mode or if you already have a replacement on the team (i.e. Farve vs Rodgers). That isn’t the case here. As you have shown, our situation at Safety isn’t much better than our situation at CB. We don’t have someone to take Polamalu’s place - which is why I wouldn’t mind Pitt taking a S somewhere in the 2-4 range in the draft…unless of course, they are considering moving either Ike (once he loses a step) or McFadden to safety. Ike (even after he loses a step) can cover better but both are good tacklers and McFadden’s main weakness is playing off the ball too much whcih isn’t a big problem for a safety.

  6. John#21,
    Yeah, it definitely does seem like deja vu. The Steelers have been looking for defensive backs for what seems like a decade. Ike has been so dependable back there, and so has Troy. But we have to face the reality that those two are getting older (and Ike’s a free agent). They’re not going to be with us forever, and we have to start planning for the future.

    Hopefully, the future will begin with this upcoming draft.

  7. John,
    I have to disagree with you on this one. I think the Patriots have been masterful in getting rid of aging players at just the right time. Richard Seymour isn’t the only one either. What about Vrabel? Or Cassell? There have been many more.

    In addition to letting players go, the Patriots are the masters of trading away picks and getting multiple picks in return. Just look at the last 3 years. They’ve done it so many times that they often end up with more picks than they can even use. But it gives them more flexibility than any other team. Moreover, they always seem to end up with high draft picks despite having a winning record.

    There’s nothing that I hate more than complimenting the Patriots, but when it comes to manipulating the draft, they are the champions. No other team even comes close.

  8. I am going to have to disagree with you again or, at least , with your examples. Neither Vrabel nor Cassel fit the aging-star criteria. Vrabel was past his prime and was likely going to get cut - he was only thrown in with the Cassel deal because Pioli wanted his locker room pressence for his young club - I think he was a throw in and the Pat’s really didn’t get anything for him.

    And on Cassel - he wasn’t an aging veteran or star at all and the Pat’s were never planning to keep him. He was a career backup with one pretty good year. As history has shown, backup QB’s who look remotely good acquire trade value. Cassel was also a free agent who was franchised soley so the Pat’s could trade him. It would have been the same if Dixon had played outstanding in the first 4 games last year. He would have value and the Steelers would definately listen to trade offers - but he wouldn’t be an aging star that they were getting rid of.

    The only person who really fits that mold is Seymour - they got rid of him rather than pay a 30+ player a lot of money. They got a 1st round pick (2 years later…so essentially 2nd round value) but it also hurt their defense and they have gotten nowhere in the playoffs since then.

    Now I am not saying that Belichick was a fool for doing so. All I am saying is that it currently looks like a bad deal. Pehaps they get a few high impact players this year and get another 1-2 SB’s in Brady’s final years. If so, it paid off. If the draft picks don’t pan out or if they take too long to develop and they don’t make it back to the SB before Brady retires, then it didn’t.

    SB QB’s don’t grow on trees and I don’t think you waste their remaining prime years selling of quality players for draft picks.

  9. Wow, really makes you miss the old duo of Ike and Townsend, huh? I was looking through the Steelers old drafts at DB, and wow, it’s depressing. I wasn’t thrilled about seeing Colclough’s name again. It’s a shame Lewis and Burnett didn’t pan out. Hopefully Butler can at least flash as a nickel, hopefully a starter, but you don’t rely on 5th round picks like that.

    We get such good safety play, but that won’t last forever. These CBs (outside of Ike)are just bad, and the elite QBs in the league are 100% aware of this. They will pick us apart with short passes all day, because our CBs are our weak point, by far. I’d love to see a shutdown guy again one day.

  10. I always thought Townsend was able to hang on as long as he did because the Steelers couldn’t find anyone better. Well, he’s a coach now, and they STILL haven’t found anyone better.

  11. John,
    My point wasn’t whether Cassell was late in his career. Frankly, I gave no thought to the particular players. I simply mentioned the first ones that popped into my mind. I didn’t think that specific examples were necessary. I assumed that most would agree that the Patriots manipulate the draft better than most other NFL teams. That was the only point that I was trying to make. But if you disagree with that assertion, then I can respect that. We can agree to disagree. As I mentioned, it was difficult enough for me to give the Pats credit for ANYTHING. So I’m certainly not going to fight over the point if someone disagrees that the Pats have one redeeming quality. ;-)

  12. Jim,
    That was pretty much it. Even as Townsend aged, nobody seemed willing or able to step up and take his starting spot. As you mentioned, we still haven’t found a replacement who is as good as Townsend (and frankly, Townsend was never even close to being a Pro Bowl caliber player). That’s disappointing, to say the least. But hopefully Crezdon Butler will show us something this year that provides a ray of hope.

  13. Don,

    That is broad enough that I can agree with it. On the original hypothetical of getting rid of a star player before they start to decline - I still disagree because I think the only example is Seymour and the case is still open on that one.

    On the way the Pats “roll over” their extra picks from year to year, I completely agree. If you know there are not enough slots on your roster for all of your picks its a great way to save value on the pick - and then, when you need that premier pick, you have the ammunition to go get it.

  14. i normally agree with what you have to say, but i’m opposite ends of the spectrum with this article. i think it’s outrageous to postulate that there is a good chance next year is ryan clark’s last year in the league. i agree he doesn’t have very many more years, but we’re talking 2-4, not 1-2.

    any talk about trading troy is premature by at least 2 years. i know he’ll probably never be able to last another entire season again but what he brings to the table both in the terms of on the field play when he is 100% & leadership is still worth that roster spot. the only way i would support a trade is if the steelers find out he’ll never be anywhere close to 100% again, which isn’t supposed to be the case. if we’re going to talk about dumping old vets then lets throw in james farrior, too. he’s 36 years old & we could replace him with foote without too huge of a drop off. and i suppose we could discuss harrison, too. he’ll be 33 at the start of the season & needed 2 offseason back surgeries.

    we’re essentially a CB & a guard (assuming we get all of our tackles back healthy, no key injuries, and big ben behaves) from probably being the AFC favorite for the super bowl. but hey, if we can throw it all away to start rebuilding a year or 2 early let’s do it.

  15. @Tim,
    We’ll have to see how long Ryan lasts. Nobody knows for sure. But were you happy with how well he performed when Troy wasn’t on the field? I believe that both the corners and safeties got exposed by Troy’s absence.

    As far as getting rid of veterans, I do think that the Steelers hold on to old players much longer than some teams do. There’s a reason why our defense is the oldest in the NFL. But obviously, they are still getting the job done. Just look at last year’s stats.

    The problem is when you hold onto too many older veterans, and don’t have young players on the roster to replace them. That makes a team vulnerable to retirements or just overall dropoffs in caliber of play. What would have happened if Casey Hampton had completely sucked last year. We don’t have a young guy on the roster to learn from him. That future nose tackle needs to be on the roster NOW.

    As far as trading Troy goes, I just threw it out there as something to discuss. I specifically said that the Steelers would never do it. But it was something to consider.

  16. i agree that it’s important to get some players backup’s on the roster especially hampton’s. looking at his contract, this year is probably hampton’s last year on the team unless the steelers wanna overpay for him next year. but the steelers didn’t sign clark to be the stud safety. they signed him to complement troy. clark looked bad 2 seasons ago when troy was out for most of the year, yet he got a big contract from the steelers to stay with the team.

    my point, & similar to what you said, is that a lot of these older vets are still producing so we should still keep them. you spend 1st rd draft picks for the chance to get players like troy so i wouldnt want to give up the DPOY until he’s no longer productive. plus, it but it takes time to find ppl to replace probowlers & can’t be done in a single draft with a few extra picks.
    i know never easy to draw the line of when to get rid of your vets & the steelers certainly don’t trade players very often (although i sometimes wish they did). but i do believe they make good calls on whether to resign vets or let them walk because they’re no longer worth the price or roster spot it would take to keep them. and because players know they won’t be shipped outta town on a moments notice i think helps in the locker room.

  17. Cheryl Sevin says:

    If For any reason they get rid of Troy they need there heads examined that would be the really dumb!!!!!! Even with his injurys he cant be replaced hes the BEST!!!!!!!! Cheryl


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