Player: Robert Golden
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2015 Salary Cap Hit: $1,542,000
2015 Season Breakdown: The 2015 season was an interesting one for Robert Golden—certainly the most interesting of his career. After all, it was filled with a number of firsts, including his first career start, and his first interception.
Around this time last year, with Golden hitting restricted free agency, I wrote of him that “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”.
I even wrote about the possibility of the Steelers passing up his restricted free agent tender and letting him hit the open market, only re-signing him if he could be had for a veteran-minimum deal. But instead they tagged him, for a cap hit about three times as much, and I would say that it paid out.
Golden was his usual self on special teams, of course, for which he has been the captain the past two seasons and is easily one of the Steelers’ best special teams players, nowadays performing more of the grunt work rather than the ones that get him attention by putting him in position to rack up tackles—which is what he did earlier in his career.
But this year wasn’t about special teams for Golden, and that became apparent in the season opener, when the Steelers broke out the quarters package, using him as a third safety. That didn’t really work out as planned—they shelved that look for most of the season afterward—but it showed that the Steelers still viewed him as something more.
And he got that opportunity a bit later after Will Allen suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for three games. Golden started in place of Allen during that stretch and played well, leading many observers to feel that he should have kept the starting role from that point on.
He did not, of course, but instead returned to focusing on special teams. But he still found playing time every now and then, sometimes as an injury replacement, but the Steelers also did begin bringing back the quarters look late in the year, particularly in obvious passing situations.
Free Agency Outlook: As interesting as the season was for Golden, the offseason may get interesting as well—and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him land an opportunity to start somewhere, including in Pittsburgh, of course.
Last year, the Steelers hoped to plug Shamarko Thomas into the starting lineup—Allen was the fallback option. Thomas fell back so far that Golden lapped him on the depth chart. But Allen is turning 34 and clearly had a step back last year.
Of the two, Golden has to be the more enticing option to entertain as a possible candidate to enter the starting lineup. Ideally, they could sign him to a deal similar to Arthur Moats’, which lands within a range where you can still be comfortable with it whether he starts or not. But this all depends upon other teams not looking at him in a similar capacity. All it would take is one good contract offer to pull him away. His free agency status may be the most interesting to watch.