The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Should the Steelers consider bringing back veteran safety Will Allen for one more season?
Will Allen has got to be one of Mike Tomlin’s favorite players in the history of his coaching career. He was Allen’s defensive backs coach in Tampa Bay for his first two seasons after he was drafted by the Buccaneers in 2004.
Years later, as the head coach of the Steelers, he brought Allen in to serve as veteran depth and as a cornerstone special teams player, and he has spent the bulk of the past six seasons in Pittsburgh. In all, eight of Allen’s 12 professional seasons have come under Tomlin’s watchful eye.
And that all culminated in him being inserted into the starting lineup at strong safety last season after Shamarko Thomas struggled with the mental aspect of the position—and area that has been Allen’s strength, and the reason that he has been so admired by his coaches.
After 12 seasons, the safety still wants to play one more year, even knowing all the while that the chances are very real that he may have played his last down of football. It is an annual concern for players in his position, and he has been very proactive in working toward his life after football during the offseasons, a fact that I believe deserves admiration.
The matter now comes down to simply whether or not it would be in the Steelers’ best interests to retain him for one more season. As it currently stands, he is the only defection from the team’s crop of safeties from last season after they re-signed Robert Golden, who started three games in Allen’s place when he was out with an ankle injury.
As much as it might be a comfort for Tomlin and the coaching staff to retain him for yet another season, however, his presence will only make it all the more difficult for the Steelers to move on, and he will always be a threat for playing time as long as he is on the roster.
Most are likely to agree that he showed last season his starting days are behind him. His tackling efficiency in particular became a major concern in a way that it hadn’t been even in 2014, and he is certainly not getting any faster.
I have no doubt that he can contribute in some capacity, and even make some plays, but sometimes the only way to move on is to actually go ahead and do it. I am a fan of Allen’s, and wish him the best. I still think that he could offer value as a third or fourth safety depending on how the team handles the draft.
But perhaps it’s time for him to take advantage of all of the effort he has put into in carving out a post-football career for himself. Whether 2015 was his last year in uniform or not, though, I hope he continues to be engaged with Pittsburgh, and with the Steelers.