We can debate the merits and disadvantages of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ organizational decision to part ways with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau until the regular season starts. No doubt many Steelers fans will do so for the next several years anyway.
One of the many facets of his parting that interests me, however, is in the way that it will affect the decision-making of some of the few remaining veterans from this defense’s peak era under LeBeau, and whether that will make them more likely to call it a career.
Of course, it’s very possible that many, if not all of them, wouldn’t have a choice one way or the other if the organization is ready to move on from them and other teams fail to pursue them in free agency, as has been the case with nearly all of the aging veterans that the Steelers have let go over the past half-decade.
The specific players in question are, of course, Ike Taylor, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, and Brett Keisel. Only the latter two are actually still under contract however, as both Taylor and Harrison are slated to hit the open market.
In the case of Harrison, he was resigned to retirement in early September when no team showed serious enough interest in him after he was released by the Cincinnati Bengals following one season with the team.
Shortly after officially announcing his retirement, Steelers right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones suffered a long-term injury, and Harrison was back in the black and gold a short time later, eventually retaking his old starting spot, and even playing quite well in spurts. By the end of the year, he wasn’t as completely opposed to the idea of playing another season as he was when he first signed.
Taylor, meanwhile, has about as close ties to an organization as any other player in the league. His relationship with owner Dan Rooney is deep and genuine, and I have a hard time imagining him playing for another organization, much like Hines Ward, even if it meant following ‘Coach Dad’, LeBeau, wherever he lands.
As for Keisel, he was re-signed in August to a two-year contract, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the 12th game of the season, and the Steelers are already comfortable with rookie Stephon Tuitt in the starting lineup.
Polamalu has at times shown his age in recent years, and he battled some injuries of his own once again in the second half of this past season. He’s not the maverick that needs to be accounted for on every single play that he once was—he failed to record a single turnover all year.
Polamalu could very well decide to retire, as could the rest, especially with the departure of LeBeau, who had been their defensive coordinator for most of their careers. For the organization’s part, they also seem to be looking to move past this era, and that includes cleaning house, including the players, as well as the coach, who once led arguably the best defense in the league in the 00s.