Player: Robert Golden
Free Agent Status: Restricted
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $571,668
2014 Season Breakdown: While the Steelers do appear to like him, Robert Golden, a third-year former undrafted free agent safety, has found it difficult to find his way onto the field for defensive purposes, often finding himself fourth, or even fifth, on the depth chart at safety.
He has, in fact, only seen about 100 snaps in total over the course of his first three seasons, limited to single digits in 2014 as the Steelers found themselves with six safeties on the roster. As a rookie, he got some looks as a nickel back, but was exposed, and he has been kept on the back end, largely, since then.
During the preseason, Golden found mixed success, recording an interception in one game while missing tackles in others. Whether he ever develops the capacity to be a regular contributor on the defensive side of the ball remains to be seen, but he doesn’t exactly appear to be in line to inherit a starting job down the road.
On the other hand, through his three seasons with the Steelers, he has become a core special teams player, and was named captain of the unit in 2014. He contributes to all of the prominent special teams units, playing whatever role the unit needs him to.
In 2013, Golden was placed in a more prominent position to rack up tackles on special teams, and he did just that. With more of the grunt work being his forte in 2014, he failed to record many tackles, but found ways to contribute in other avenues.
There was a brief spell early in the season during which Golden had an issue with drawing penalties on special teams, which was a team-wide problem not limited to just him. Both he and the team as a whole gradually quieted that down, and it doesn’t seem likely that that would become a recurring problem.
Entering his fourth season, and looking at the Steelers’ roster, it’s hard to imagine at this moment that Golden will ever climb from the ranks of special teams ace into a more prominent role on the defensive side of the ball.
Free Agency Outlook: Given the fact that the Steelers have five safeties currently under contract, in fact, with a sixth likely to be re-signed, it’s not inconceivable that the Steelers choose not to tender Golden an FA tag, which might be worth $1.54 million this season.
The front office may well pass on this offer, allow Golden to hit the open market to see if there are any takers for his special teams services above minimum wage, and then find his way back to the black and gold, perhaps on a qualifying veteran minimum contract, but certainly less than what the tag would be worth. While he has value to the team, it’s hard to say that that value exceeds a six-digit figure per season.