Sentimental Reasons: Is The Effort To ‘Retire’ Pittsburgh Steelers Hurting ‘Rebuilding’ Efforts?


Dec 15, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu (43) looks on from the sidelines against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Steelers Nation have witnessed many a great players wear a Black & Gold uniform.  Many have been fortunate enough to have several successful years in the Steelers organization before moving on.  Some last for many years and become some of Steeler Nation’s favorites and most beloved players.  Very few spend their entire careers of a decade or longer and retire with only one uniform ever worn.

It’s a nice sentiment to think of our Steeler ‘legends’ playing many many years in the ‘Burgh and ending their careers in a Steelers uniform.  Who out there in Steeler Nation wasn’t crushed when they learned of Hines Ward’s intent of playing for another team after the Steelers let him go after 14 seasons with the organization?  How many more were elated when Ward decided to retire instead (albeit after there was no interest from most of the league) and only don a Steelers #86 jersey?  A player spending their entire career on one team just ads weight to that legendary status and future nostalgia when fans think back to when that player took the field and battled every Sunday.

It’s a feather in the cap for the heads of football organizations who have players only play for them.  It’s an achievement almost – play well for us, we will take care of you (financially), you don’t have to go anywhere else, and you become a legend with our fan base.  Pretty nice incentive for those special kinds of players.

But when a team is undoubtedly in a rebuilding phase within the organization, does the effort of trying to keep veterans around so that they can ‘retire in a Steelers uniform’ hinder that very rebuilding process?

Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a press conference with season ticket holders this week that the team wants safety Troy Polamlu to retire a Steeler.

"We would very much love to have Troy retire as a Steeler and expect that he will.  He’s obviously been one of the great Steelers of all time…. As we try to piece together next year and our salary cap, there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle, but I certainly expect Troy will be one of the pieces of that puzzle."

Sounds nice, but it’s going to cost the team if they want to do that.  Polamalu is entering the final year of his contract and is expected to make a little over $8 million and cost the Steelers almost $11 million in cap space.  There’s no time in his contract to restructure for next season to get his cost down for the 2014 season.  The Steelers will either need to let him play out this season, take the $10 million cap hit, and hope to renegotiate a new contract after the 2014 season when he becomes a FA.  Risky business if they really value Polamalu and want to ensure he retires as a Steeler.

The other option is to sign him to an extension during this off-season and try to get him to take a pay cut.  I’m not sure if Polamlu is willing to take a ‘home town’ discount.  He believes he’s still worth every penny.  If the Steelers can’t get him to take a discount, he is going to come with a hefty price tag.

Maybe the price will be driven down since over the years (except for this season) Polamalu has played with some type of injury that hampers his ability to be the playmaker Steeler Nation has grown to love to legendary status.  Re-signing Polamalu could potentially be a mistake were he to sustain an nagging calf or hamstring injury.  The other side of the Polamalu contract coin is that if Dick LeBeau were to ‘retire’ during Troy’s final contract as a Steeler, would he be as an effective playmaker in a different system – one that does not allow him the freedom to move around prior to the snap of the football?  Polamalu has thrived in LeBeau’s system.  If he can’t cover as well as a safety should in a system that puts him deep every time, what is his worth then?

I don’t like it when coaches and team owners use language like ‘we want them to retire a Steeler.’  Really?  That’s all fuzzy and warm to think about, but at the end of the day, football is a business where the end goal is to make money.  In order to make more money, you need to be as competitive as possible, win Super Bowls, and grow that fan base.  I would love for Troy to retire a Steeler as much as the next fan, but if it’s at the cost of this team going 8-8 again or for the next several seasons…. then sorry, Troy.  It’s been fun, but you gotta go.

If Troy Polamalu is not worth the money to make more money, then are the Steelers sacrificing opportunities during a rebuilding period?