Safety Polamalu, Steelers in holding pattern

| Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011

Within a span of three weeks, the Steelers handed out more than $138 million in contracts to their second-ranked defense, and the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year didn't get one cent.

Troy Polamalu will become an unrestricted free agent following the season if the Steelers don't get a deal done with the three-time All-Pro safety within the next two weeks.

And with the Steelers so close to the salary cap this year, Polamalu likely will have to wait until after the season to get a long-term deal.

Either way, Polamalu isn't talking specifics.

"I'd love to be here; I'd love to retire a Steeler," Polamalu said. "All comments regarding the contract stay between the Steelers and my agent. Sorry."

The Steelers want to keep Polamalu but might have to put the franchise tag on him in March. The franchise tag for safeties next year is projected to be about $9 million. Polamalu is in the final year of a deal that paid him $6.6 million a season.

"To be honest, it is part of the (collective bargaining agreement) that all of us agreed on," Polamalu said of the franchise tag. "It's part of the system."

Polamalu first needs to show he can stay healthy. He missed 11 games in 2009 with a knee injury and missed two more last year, when he suffered an Achilles injury that troubled him the second half of the season.

The 30-year-old has missed 21 games over the past five years after not missing any his first three years.

"We are not worried about Troy," receiver Hines Ward said. "I guess everybody expects him to make a play every game. He is making plays when he is not making plays."

The Steelers have taken a cautious approach to Polamalu in the preseason because of his injury issues. Polamalu was given days off during training camp and didn't play the first preseason game against Washington.

He returned last week against the Eagles and showed that he was 100 percent.

"I would be completely fine if Troy showed up Sunday morning and went home, and we never saw him again (until the next game)," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "He is that good. He is that good of a player that he can just show up and play games and still be one of the best, if not the best in the game."

Polamalu didn't have a tackle against the Eagles, but he was all over the field. He had two pass breakups and an interception that he returned 36 yards.

"It is back to business as usual for Troy," linebacker James Farrior said. "He is making the plays that we expect him to make on a normal basis, even though they are not normal plays for him."

Polamalu wasn't able to practice much down the stretch last year. Instead of on-the-field

training, he turned more to watching videotape.

That created mixed results, the most notable coming in the Super Bowl when he an?tici?pated a route by Greg Jennings that ended up turning into a touchdown.

"I felt like I got a little too much tape where you start thinking and anticipating a little too much," Polamalu said. "Absolutely, I need practice. The most important thing is to get your eyes accustomed to seeing the right things and snapping into your keys and react to your keys as fast as possible."

And when healthy, Polamalu is a difference-maker for the Steelers, who are 6-7 the past two years with him out of the lineup.

"He's fresh," Ward said. "It is just a matter of keeping him healthy now."

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