Player: Shamarko Thomas
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2016 Salary Cap Hit: $788,288
2016 Season Breakdown:
Ah, yes, here we have Shamarko Thomas, everybody’s favorite safety. Or at least he was everybody’s favorite four years ago when the Steelers drafted him—albeit in the fourth round—as the heir apparent to All-Pro Troy Polamalu, easily one of the most well-liked players in franchise history.
Suffice it to ay that Thomas never lived the fill those shoes. In fact, he never even managed to fill the shoes of a starter. Since Polamalu’s retirement, three different players have already occupied the starting free safety position as the starter, and not as an injury replacement. You can throw a fourth one into that mix if you want to include all safeties who were given starting time over him in the past two seasons.
That is not to say that he did not get any playing time whatsoever during the course of the season, because he did, although it was never by intention but rather as a result of a confluence of factors, primary among them being injury.
Over the course of the season, Thomas logged five snaps on defense, and if I’m not mistaken, one of his seven tackles on the season even came on defense. But, of course, the bulk of his value to the team is and has always been his work on special teams.
Unfortunately quality special-teams play from an individual’s perspective is virtually impossible to highlight using statistics, because nobody tracks how many punts a gunner might force a returner to fair catch, or how many he might have downed, by way of example.
The fourth-year player unfortunately dealt with multiple injuries over the course of the season. The most significant proved to be the concussion that he suffered against the Giants. He was inactive for the next two weeks before the team placed him on injured reserve, and you never want to hear of a player’s season ending due to concussion.
Free Agency Outlook:
Shamarko Thomas is not exactly going to be a high-profile free agent. It wouldn’t even be all that surprising if he does not attract a particular amount of attention. As much as Dick LeBeau might like bringing in some of his former players, I don’t know that he liked Thomas so much.
It was Carnell Lake who gushed about Thomas when they drafted him, and while he worked in the slot in the early portions of his rookie season, LeBeau yanked him after the Steelers re-acquired veteran Will Allen to fill that role after Thomas suffered an ankle injury and never put the rookie back in. He has pretty much been on the bench since.
But he is a valuable special teams player and is the team’s best gunner, in addition to other roles that he serves on special teams. He would be worth re-signing to a veteran-minimum contract, which would actually see him have a lower cap hit in 2017 than the nearly $800,000 that he had in 2016.