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Pittsburgh Steelers Face Interesting Decisions at the Safety Position the Offseason

January 18th, 2013 at 11:26 PM
By Mark Mihalko

As we have discussed in many articles already this offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in dire straights with their salary cap situation. This deficit is so pronounced that many veterans will be released or just not re-signed because of it. In a perfect world, this would be easy to manage, but this is not a perfect world, and by no means a perfect roster.

'Steelers Prepare to Vibrate' photo (c) 2008, Steve Snodgrass - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
While the projections made in the last article made sense for the restricted free agents, there are much bigger issues ahead at many positions. One such position is at safety, where some interesting sun-plots exist.

At first glance, starters Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are under contract and should be around at least one more year. However, they both have high salary cap numbers and are creeping up in age and both battled through injuries in 2012. Polamalu ($4.9 Million) and Clark ($3.5 Million) would also seem safe as both primary back-ups Ryan Mundy and Will Allen are unrestricted free agents.

Ironically, Mundy and Allen seem to be trending in opposite directions after this past season. This is ironic because at this point last season, all signs appeared to show Mundy as the player likely to be targeted by the team for a long-term future with the Steelers. Unfortunately, for Mundy, he suffered through a disappointing stretch early in the season and it saw him fall behind Allen, who had one of his better seasons in 2012, and looked solid in relief of Polamalu and Clark.

With the cap situation as it is, it will be impossible for the team to re-sign both Allen or Mundy, if they sign either. With all things being equal, Allen appears to be the favorite at this point if the Steelers have the space.

If signed, Allen or Mundy would join Robert Golden behind the two Pro Bowl caliber starters. Golden had a solid 2012, especially considering his rise from being an undrafted rookie free agent. By the end of the season, he was seeing action at both cornerback and safety and could play a larger role moving forward.

Another player who may get a look at safety this offseason is exclusive rights free agent DeMarcus Van Dyke. Yes, he was basically a special teams performer in 2012, and showed very little on the defensive side of the ball, but he has natural athleticism and speed, something you cannot teach. The Steelers claimed him from waivers from the Oakland Raiders as the season started, making him learn the system on the fly, something that is almost virtually impossible for the best players to do. This of course is speculation, but with all of the special teams penalties Van Dyke made during the season, there has to be something in the big picture many are not seeing, and a transition to safety makes sense with his size and speed.

Sure, we at Steelers 101 are leaning toward a wide receiver in our early projections for the NFL Draft (especially if they part ways with Jerricho Cotchery for salary cap reasons), this is by no means a lock. In all honesty, there are many ways they could go, including safety. One player who would potentially fit the bill is University of Florida strong safety Matt Elam.

While Elam may not be the top rated safety overall, he has the look of a player that could come in and be a perfect candidate to learn behind Polamalu. The 5-10, 202-pound prospect has great athleticism and looks comfortable both in the box and in deep centerfield. In watching his versatility on film, he often played like a younger Polamalu, showing a similar skill set of instincts, speed and playmaking ability.

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Tags: DeMarcus Van Dyke, Exclusive Rights free agent, Football, Matt Elam, NFL, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Steelers, Robert Golden, Ryan Clark, Ryan Mundy, Troy Polamalu, Will Allen

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