So far this season starting safeties Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell have combined to register 113 total tackles, three defensed passes, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. While that production is low when you compare it to other teams’ starting safety combinations around the league, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made it known Tuesday during his press conference that we’re not likely to see backups Shamarko Thomas or Robert Golden on the field anytime soon.
“We’re comfortable with the rotation that we have at the safety position right now, and Will Allen has played a lot of safety, he’s a versatile guy,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “We have some multi-positional corners in sub package football that aid us. We put Ike [Taylor] inside some last week on Jimmy Graham and essentially he was playing as a safety.
“We’ve got a bunch of different packages, if you will, from a sub package defensive standpoint and we’re comfortable with the guys that we have contributing in that area. But we’re also comfortable and positive in regards to some of the contributions of some guys like Robert Golden and Shamarko in terms of some of the things that they are doing on special teams.”
While several fans would like to see Thomas replace Mitchell in the lineup at free safety, you can probably forget about ever seeing that because Thomas is much better suited to play the strong safety position because of his lack of length. As for Golden being a possibility to replace Mitchell at free safety, he’s never given any indication in the little playing time that he’s received during his short career that he would be an upgrade.
When Will Allen was brought back during the offseason, that was a clear sign that the team didn’t believe that Thomas or Golden could offer much in the way of depth at the safety position this year.
After the 2014 season is over we will know exactly what the team thinks about Mitchell moving forward into 2015. Mitchell, who signed a five year, $25 million contract back in March as an unrestricted free agent, is set to count $4.95 million against the salary cap next season. He is, however, due a roster bonus of $2 million on the 5th day of the new league year. If the Steelers choose to release him prior to paying him that, they would suffer a dead money charge in 2015 in the amount of $3.8 million unless they designate him to be a post June 1st release. So in other words, they would save $1.15 million by just releasing him outright and not designating him as being a future release prior to paying him the $2 million roster bonus he is owed.
As far as Polamalu’s future goes, he might very well decide to retire after this season. If he decides to play in 2015, he will count $8.25 million against the 2015 salary cap. If he decides to retire, however, it would crate a 2015 dead money charge of $4.5 million, but would also free up $3.75 million in 2015 cap space.
It’s really hard to predict what will ultimately happen this offseason with Polamalu and Mitchell, but if pressed hard right now for a prediction, I would say that there’s a good chance that both will return next season. In addition to that, I could see the team drafting free safety-type in late April.
Being as the team wouldn’t save very much cap space next season by releasing Mitchell during the offseason, they really would have to be very dissatisfied with his first year of play and off-the-field actions in Pittsburgh in order to move on from him so quickly. That possibility certainly is not out of the question, however.
The Steelers have four games left in the 2014 season and at this point we can only hope that Polamalu and Mitchell both start impacting games more than they have so far this season. As for Thomas and Golden, hopefully they both can start making a bigger impact on special teams in the remaining four games as that’s likely the only way both will see the field.