While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Will Troy Polamalu play another season in Pittsburgh, and how will he perform?
Troy Polamalu is inarguably one of the greatest players to ever play for the Steelers—certainly of the modern era. He may ultimately find his way to the Hall of Fame when he calls it a career.
But is he ready to do so now? And are the Steelers ready?
During the last offseason, Polamalu found himself in the final year of his contract, set to turn 33 years old. The front office, in a move to create more cap space, extended his contract by two years, but that certainly doesn’t guarantee that he will see the life of that contract.
When the Steelers extended that offer, Polamalu was coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he recorded seven turnovers and played every snap, seemingly over his chronic injury issues. But in 2014, he failed to record a single turnover, and missed a number of games, and parts of others, due to injuries.
While he still showed that he could be a competent starter with an eye-popping play being made here and there, however, even when Polamalu was on the field, he no longer looked like that Wildcard All-Pro that opposing teams must account for on every snap.
Assuming that he is healthy to play another season, it’s certainly possible, if not likely, that Polamalu could continue to be a competent starting strong safety. But that may not be enough, either for himself or for the team.
We already know about Polamalu and his thoughts on defining himself as an athlete, but from the team’s perspective, in a period of transition, his contract, lack of longevity, and declining play could be enough to see him being coaxed into retirement.
Is Shamarko Thomas the heir apparent, the next in line? He himself struggled with hamstring issues last year, but, even though he hardly played last season, the team does still seem to be high on his future. And that future may be now.