The Pittsburgh Steelers have parted ways with two starters at safety over the course of the past two offseasons, last year failing to re-sign Ryan Clark, and just recently, of course, having former All-Pro Troy Polamalu announce his retirement (Clark also retired this offseason after playing one final season with Washington).
In order to replace Clark, who’s level of play dropped dramatically during his final two seasons in Pittsburgh—particularly in 2013—the Steelers uncharacteristically went out and got a starter in free agency, signing Mike Mitchell to a five-year, $25 million contract.
The nature of that contract is one of escalating value, which was formatted in a way that would allow them to get out of it with marginal damage in terms of dead money. But the front office chose to restructure his contract this offseason, albeit modestly, which at least in part seems to suggest that they have no plans of escaping that contract.
So Mitchell is clearly written in as a starter this offseason, and in fact head coach Mike Tomlin has even trumped up his versatility in being able to play either strong or free safety, depending on where the team might need him should an issue arise in finding a replacement for Polamalu.
That replacement is expected to be Shamarko Thomas, the 2013 fourth-round draft pick that the Steelers traded a 2014 third-round draft pick to acquire. But there are many who have valid concerns about his ability to take over the job after missing seven games due to injury and barely seeing the field at all on defense.
On the same day that the team announced Polamalu’s retirement, they also re-signed veteran reserve safety Will Allen, who has a good deal of starting experience as an injury replacement at the defensive back end for Pittsburgh, but they certainly didn’t bring him back as the starter.
Still, I can’t help but feel it would be an overreaction to try to replace a Hall of Fame player with a knee-jerk reaction like grabbing the top safety in the draft in the first round. Many have linked Landon Collins to the Steelers over the course of the offseason, and that has only increased since Polamalu retired.
Collins is not even the type of splash play making safety that the Steelers are reportedly looking for, after going through an entire season in which they failed to get an interception from the position as a whole.
But the bigger reason that I would not target Collins is simply because I don’t believe it’s necessary. I understand that both Mitchell and Thomas disappointing seasons—Mitchell due to performance and Thomas due to an inability to get on the field—but I do believe that both will be up to the task, even if they don’t turn in Pro Bowl performances.
Unless the draft breaks in such a way that Collins is the only reasonable selection and there are no equitable trading partners, I would look elsewhere. Not every superstar needs to be replaced with what you hope to be another one. Go get a superstar at another position.