As has been previously reported, soon after the Pittsburgh Steelers officially announced that veteran safety Troy Polamalu is retiring, they quickly turned around and re-signed free agent safety Will Allen to a one-year, veteran-minimum contract.
The fact that the Steelers re-signed Allen in and of itself is not a surprise, of course, as he has been a valuable member of the special teams units, as well as the defense, for the majority of the past five seasons.
The fact that he was only re-signed after the situation with Polamalu was resolved, and so immediately after it, may have been somewhat of a surprise to some, but as I have previously written, it is likely that the front office was waiting for a resolution both out of respect to Polamalu and so as not to add to the perception that they were forcing the veteran into retirement.
Now that the dust has settled, however, it’s time to take a look at where Will Allen might fit on this roster and within the defense, at least for now, as we head into the draft. And to be clear, there is certainly no reason that a safety in the first round should be off the board if the draft happens to fall that way.
It’s not as though the Steelers have an established player waiting in the wings to start and take over Polamalu’s role in the defense. While third-year safety Shamarko Thomas spent the offseason training with the future Hall of Famer last year, he has not played much on defense.
Thomas was limited to just a couple snaps at the end of the year, despite the fact that Polamalu missed several games due to injury. But the issue was that Thomas also missed several games due to injury, suffering hamstring pulls in both legs and missing about half the year.
With Thomas getting the shot to start, but with no guarantees against failure, and with Mike Mitchell entering his second year with the Steelers after a disappointing first season, it was imperative that Pittsburgh add some kind of comforting presence behind their two presumptive starters, and that is precisely what Allen provides.
Allen played over 300 snaps on defense last year, with over two-thirds of those snaps coming in the four games that he started in place of Polamalu. While he looked shaky in his first start, he improved throughout the year, and played his best game in the season finale.
The Steelers believe that they can count on Allen to be a spot starter at either safety position, which is a great source of comfort, but they also know that he can be counted on as a role player in sub-packages as well. The veteran safety played an instrumental role in the team’s quarters package just two seasons ago, which became their base that year.
I could see instances in which the Steelers would like to put Allen in the game to play deep safety to allow either Mitchell or Thomas to play closer to the line or in coverage, knowing that they could count on the veteran to be where he’s supposed to be.
Whether or not he is even on the roster come the regular season is not guaranteed, however, even if it does seem unlikely that he would not be, barring a cash crop at the position during the draft. As it currently stands, the Steelers are better today having Allen on the roster than not.