Dec 16, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark (25) on the sidelines during the second half against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys won 27-24 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Will Anyone In NFL Want Pittsburgh Steelers Ryan Clark?

Dec 22, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) reacts in front of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark (25) after getting a first down in the 1st quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Hold onto your helmets Steeler Nation.  It doesn’t look like ESPN will be dazzled yet by the charming yet hard hitting likes of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark in the immediate future.  At least not on a full time basis yet.  Following the win over the Browns yesterday, Clark spoke with the media, and there were questions raised about whether he would return for another year.

I’m playing.  Where that’s going to be I’m not sure. Hopefully I’m playing (next) Saturday or Sunday. That’s what’s really important to me.

Well, he won’t be playing next weekend, so the question still remains – Does Clark have a future in Pittsburgh?  If not, then does he have one anywhere in the NFL?

Clark’s tune is a little different than what it was during the offseason this past summer.  While awaiting word from the team on extending his contract beyond 2013, Clark said that he wanted to retire a Steeler and didn’t really want to play anywhere else.  The Steelers drafted Shmarko Thomas in the April and did not approach Clark in extending his contract beyond the 2013 season.  Clark turned 34 in October and was paid $4.7 million for the season.

The only way Clark will be wearing black and gold colors next season is if he takes a major pay cut, which he’s not really willing to take:

I think I’m worth more than that [league minimum], and if they decide that I’m not then you have to understand that and you have to move on. I respect the business.  If they feel like they can move on without me and the team will be fine, that’s what they’ll do. They’ve got Hall of Famers that have finished in different jerseys, so I know I am going to be no different, and that’s OK with me.

His performance sloughed off this season compared to season’s past, and he is noticeably slower.  He consistently took poor angles while in pursuit and was bowled over numerous times by running backs and tight ends while attempting tackles.  That’s not something you want out of either of your team’s safeties.  With the emergence of Shmarko Thomas (and by God, his great speed alone), one would have to think that Thomas will be the favored starter despite Dick LeBeau’s tradition of letting the young guys rot until they handle such a ‘complex’ defense.

I believe that Clark’s chances of returning are slim.  His age and performance are becoming rather large liabilities to this defense that struggled to defend the ‘big play,’ bear down in critical situations, and get off the field on 3rd downs.  Thomas should be the starter next season, which would leave Clark to be in a back up roll.  You don’t pay a backup safety over $4 million just to sit on the bench and contribute on special teams.  Let’s also not forget the rumors swirling around of potentially moving Ike Taylor to safety (albeit a big fat chance).  So the question that remains for Clark’s future in the NFL is ‘Will anyone want him?’

We’ve seen how old safeties can get shuffled around in this league.  Even the good ones.  Clark will be taking a pay cut no matter where he goes, and will his ego be able to accept that?  He said himself before this season started that he didn’t want to get shuffled around from team to team.  Well that’s exactly what’s going to happen a la Ed Reed in 2013.  And, he can forget about landing on a team that is Super Bowl or even playoff bound unless someone like Earl Thomas gets big time hurt during the playoffs.

I think Clark should be brushing up on that TV smile and just resign to the fact that he is about to become the latest sports analyst personality to hit the airwaves.


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