Host of Steelers veterans look toward career survival mode
There is much for these Pittsburgh Steelers to play for in the final three weeks of a season that got away from them at the very start and was never recaptured.
The results might not necessarily show up in the standings. But rather on their pay stubs.
For some of the aging Steelers, the focus shifts from playoff survival to career survival.
“Obviously, we're all independent contractors,” safety Ryan Clark said. “So once you're out of the playoff picture, you know guys are still playing for their jobs, playing for their livelihood, their careers. It just means so much more to play for each other, to play for a team goal. It keeps you up in the locker room, it keeps you together.
One thing seems certain about a 5-8 team that is one loss away from the Steelers' first losing season in 10 years: These Steelers won't be together much longer.
History shows that. After the Steelers went 6-10 during a 2003 season that was much like this one — offensive line injuries, questions about the playing-calling, defensive secondary breakdowns — they underwent an extensive overhaul in 2004.
Both coordinators changed. Six starters on defense changed. Troy Polamalu and Larry Foote were among those who moved into the lineup. The quarterback changed. And the record changed — to 15-1.
Such a turnaround might seem improbable for a team that started 0-4 this season and is 7-13 since the middle of last season, but here are a half-dozen players who have much to play for the rest of December:
• Troy Polamalu. If the Steelers had a better record, he might be talked about as the comeback player of the year. He's among the NFL's highest-ranked safeties. And while he has a huge salary cap hit ($10.9 million) in 2014, there is no dead money against his deal, so the Steelers could let him go and clear an estimated $8,250,000 worth of cap space. The question is whether they risk going into 2014 with two new safeties because ...
• Clark will be 35 next year and his performance has slipped appreciably. He is ranked No. 52 among safeties by Pro Football Focus, down from No. 9 last season. The Steelers didn't trade a draft pick to choose Shamarko Thomas, then sit him.
• Ike Taylor. The Steelers made a big deal about going younger in the quarterbacks' room this season. Next season it could be in the secondary's room. However, the Steelers recently reworked Taylor's contract, meaning he's more likely to return next year. They'd save approximately $7 million by letting him go, but they'd take a nearly $5 million hit for dead money.
• Cortez Allen. He'll be back next season, but as a starter? The Steelers expected him to be the next Keenan Lewis, a player who thrives after serving an apprenticeship. Instead, he's consistently lost coverage, and his job, to William Gay. Allen has allowed 130 yards in catches the last two weeks. “I've got to make more plays,” Allen said. “I've got to be better.”
•Jason Worilds. No Steelers player will be watched more closely the rest of the way — by opposing teams. He's likely made millions with his seven sacks and 17 QB hits over the last six games. But who will be paying? Possibly not the Steelers.
•Emmanuel Sanders. The next three weeks could set his market value. He's caught 17 of 23 passes thrown his way the last three games, but seems to make an important drop every game. And he ranks far below teammates Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery in overall offensive efficiency. And Cotchery? Nine of his 41 catches are for touchdowns, and he's unsigned for 2014, too.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers are banking on linebackers to improve strength of defense
- Kaboly: Steelers fill biggest needs by drafting defensive players
- Penn State tight end James, a South Allegheny grad, goes to Steelers in 5th round
- Steelers get their corner with Mississippi’s Golson
- Steelers notebook: Harrison will play fewer snaps this season
- Steelers focus on defense on final day of NFL Draft
- Steelers draft WR from Auburn in 3rd round
- Steeler draft analysis: There’s no excuse for no 1st-round cornerback
- Steelers take Kentucky OLB Dupree with 1st-round pick in draft
- Steelers introduce No. 1 pick Dupree
- Steelers mock drafts: Beat writers give their picks