May 21, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (43) wipes sweat from his eyes while being interviewed by members of the media after participating in organized team activities at the UPMC Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Is this Troy's last ride with the Steelers?

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Each NFL team has a player who is an icon for the organization. For the Colts it’s Johnny Unitas, for the Jets it’s Joe Namath, for the 49ers it’s Joe Montana and so on. However, even those three icons finished their careers in other uniforms: Unitas with the Chargers, Namath with the Rams and Montana with the Chiefs.
Certainly for the Steelers, their most iconic player over the last ten years is arguably safety Troy Polamalu. Together with former Ravens and current Texans player Ed Reed, Polamalu has helped re-define the safety position. Along with Reed, Polamalu is a future Hall of Famer for certain. But could this be his last in a Steelers uniform?
With all their salary cap issues the team has had and will have next season, it’s not hard to imagine the team forced to part ways with its brilliant defensive play maker. Troy has been the consummate teammate, and over the last six years has repeated his desire on staying with the Steelers. But football is a business, and whether he wants to or not, business may dictate where he plays in 2014. Is he worth bringing back next season? Let’s look at some numbers.

First the positives, he was defensive player of the year for 2010 and has been to seven Pro Bowls (2004-08, 2010,2011) and been all Pro five times (2004,2005,2008,2010,2011) and has two Superbowl trophies. Five times he’s been AFC defensive player of the week. He has amassed 640 tackles, 30 ints and 10 sacks over his career, many of them coming in clutch situations. Not bad for a player who was a second option for the team back in 2003. The Steelers had a verbal agreement with Superbowl MVP Dexter Jackson of Tampa Bay, but he bolted at the last minute to join Pittsburgh west, otherwise known as the Arizona Cardinals. Needing a safety, the team moved up eleven spots to grab Polamalu and has not looked back since. One could only wonder how Steeler history may have been different if Jackson hadn’t changed his mind.

Now for the slight negatives. Over the last six years, Polamalu’s style of play has caused him to miss numerous games. In 2007 he only played in 11 games each and in 2009 he missed 11 games. 2010 was a relatively healthy year for him, but ever since he’s missed games with an assortment of ailments. In earlier years, Troy’s absence was noticeable as the defense seemed to suffer without his play making ability. However, over the last two years, despite an overall drop in sacks and ints, the defense has played well without him. An injured Polamalu in 2012 has not had the same negative impact as was the case in 2007 and 2009.

So what does this mean? Yes, with him the Steelers are a better team, but they’ve shown they can win without him. He carries a lofty salary for this season $7,500,000 and a loftier salary of $8,250,000 for 2014 which is a major factor in whether he is worth retaining. Obviously much depends on what he does this season and how healthy he is. However, even a healthy Troy could find himself a cap casulty. Paired with Ryan Clark, they form one of the best safety tandems in the league. But Clark may also be a cap casualty after this season and there are high hopes for 2013 draftee Shamarko Thomas from Syracuse.

Personally, if I had to chose, I’d keep Polamalu, but only if he’s willing to take a significant salary cut (maybe the 4,500,00 range). If not, well….Unitas, Namath, and Montana and even Ed Reed did it. Maybe 2014 will see Troy Polamalu finish his Hall of Fame career in another uniform.

What do you think Steeler fans? Keep Troy or let him go?

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