By Sheldon Dean
Recent articles put out by Sports Illustrated and other blogs have been full of projections as the next free agency period begins in the NFL ahead of the Combine and 2015 Draft. With the exit of Dick LeBeau to the Tennessee Titans, most of the chatter related to the Steelers has centered around an anticipated exodus of Pittsburgh players – namely ones that play defense. At this point, speculation is the best that has been offered.
Star safety Troy Polamalu seems destined to be among the first to unhitch his horse from the post in Pittsburgh according to several prediction machines. The opinion is that Polamalu will ride off into Titans town because he is completely dedicated to LeBeau. Despite the fact that Polamalu would save the Steelers $6 million in cap salary, nearly $2.5 in dead money, he has given no indication that he would return in 2015, let alone seek more southerly pastures in Nashville. In an interview in January, team president Art Rooney II would not commit to whether Polamalu would return, but indicated the Steelers would like to see him retire with the franchise. Polamalu has indicated that his wife and he have spoken of retirement as recent as the beginning of the 2014 season. To say the Pro Bowl strong safety is guaranteed to be dismissed is premature. With two years left on his contract, Polamalu may not be the spry all over the field influence he once was, but at 33 he still is a viable veteran with valuable experience. Whether he remains in Pittsburgh will ultimately come down to what happens when the organization holds talks with him.
Brett Keisel‘s name also keeps popping up in these predictions of defection to Tennessee. At his ‘Shear Da Beard’ charity event, Keisel pointed out that his retirement from the NFL is imminent due to age, but he has continued to rehab after suffering a torn triceps near the end of the 2014 season and is interested in returning in 2015. The fact that Stephon Tuitt did not progress well his rookie season despite expectations brought Keisel back to Pittsburgh. Whether he remains with the team should have more to do with the experience he can offer than the measly $1.5 the Steelers would pay out. Keisel was on his way to Arizona before getting the call to return to Pittsburgh. Why it would be predicted he’d head to the Titans is a bit of a mystery.
God bless Dick LeBeau, but was he the only defensive coach on the sidelines any of the Steelers defenders listened to or learned from? Isn’t it just as likely that Keith Butler played a major role in developing these veterans as well? Keisel and Polamalu are familiar with Ray Horton, Ken Whisenhunt and Bruce Arians as well, but no one has speculated that those three men have the powers of persuasion LeBeau is imbued with.
Rooney stated that talks would he held “internally” with Polamalu, Keisel, Ike Taylor and James Harrison. “There’s a lot of discussions to be had,” Rooney said. With Butler elevated to the defensive coordinator position, his input is highly likely when it comes to outlining the plans the Steelers would like to put into play in 2015. If Rooney expects to have sit-downs with these veterans to go over details, it seems there is at least possible options on the table, making speculations that Polamalu, Keisel, Harrison and Taylor would simply push their chairs away to be automatically inserted into the Titans roster as a quartet a bit bizarre.
Stranger things have happened in the NFL, but without evidence that these four players have any inkling of joining LeBeau is rumor at its finest during a time when the only way to grab readers’ attention is to sensationalize a story in the hopes your prediction comes to fruition.