Another in a position-by-position series examining the Steelers' roster in advance of the start of free agency.
(Free Agent Scorecard at the position: 2 unrestricted free agents – Will Allen, Ryan Clark)
His departure last offseason via free agency turned out to be underrated, because Allen was a valuable addition when he was brought back after being released by Dallas. He gives the Steelers defense something it needs, which is a safety who possesses coverage skills and the ability to make plays on the football. He will be 32 in June, and he will be unrestricted again in a couple of months.
Since it began the player-safety crackdown in October 2010, the NFL has legislated Clark's strengths as a player out of the game. A physical, big-hitting safety who was an intimidating presence in the deep-middle of the field, Clark cannot even attempt to play as he did in helping the team win a lot of games during his first four-plus seasons here. Now an unrestricted free agent who will be 35 in October, Clark would appear to be a guy the Steelers will move on without. The way the game is legislated now, free safeties are more valuable if they're ball-hawks instead of big-hitters.
Signed to a futures contract on Jan. 10. A complete unknown.
A core special teams player in his second NFL season with a team-best 14 special teams tackles, Golden has proven his value there. Can he expand that to include a regular role on defense? He'll get that chance starting in Latrobe.
He will come with a high salary cap number in 2014, but Polamalu remains one of the defense's primary playmakers. He will be 33 in April, and maybe his role within the scheme should be re-thought, because maybe asking/allowing him to do what he was doing a few years ago isn't what's best either for him or the defense. If the quarterback is willing to re-tool his style to extend his career and help the team succeed, why not the strong safety? Dick LeBeau is a smart guy, and he'll do what's best for the player within the context of the team.
In college he was a physical safety with the coverage skills to match-up with wide receivers in the slot. The Steelers drafted him because he was that kind of player, and now they need him to be that in the NFL in 2014. His progress toward becoming that kind of a player was slowed by an ankle injury and then the return of Will Allen. Thomas needs to live up to Mike Tomlin's expectation that players make a significant jump in performance from their first to their second seasons in the league.
Was here a year ago at this time, but Ventrone was waived on the final cut-down. He's back for another shot.