If Troy Polamalu doesn’t decide to retire very soon or at least take a massive pay cut, the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to release one of the ‘faces of the franchise’ of two Super Bowl victories and a future hall of fame safety it’d be a shame to see playing for a different team.

Polamalu is one of the two most prominent safeties in the NFL over the last 12 seasons, known for his fantastic timing and hands (32 career interceptions, 108 deflected passes), helping the Steelers reach three Super Bowl games during his time with the team, winning two of them. He made the Pro Bowl eight times and the All-Pro first team four times, named to the All-2000s 2nd team. But some time has passed since the 33 year old played at that high level.

Troy Polamalu

After a few too many concussions and injury, including one to the knee that made him miss four games last season, Polamalu is left undecided about his future, with pressure from the organization to retire so he can end his career with them. His speed is gone, and with it most of what made him so great for a decade of playing on an excellent defense. With the team being quite limited in terms of cap space (about $12 million), paying him $6 million this season is a bit too much.

There’s also a lot of dead money that comes with letting him go. Polamalu’s cap hit this season is $8.25 million but the Steelers save up only $3.75 million in cap space if they release him. He’s signed through 2016, with an $8 million cap hit and $5.75 million in cap savings if he’s released. For only the second time in his career, Polamalu failed to record a single sack or interception through an entire season, struggling to make an impact along with veteran Will Allen at safety.

The Steelers want to end this nicely, but it’s always hard to leave the game in the “right” way. In terms of backup, the Steelers might hit the draft, but there’s a very good chance the 2013 fourth rounder Shamarko Thomas who has been used mostly in special teams these last couple of seasons gets to inherit Polamalu’s place in the defense, with the Steelers trying to move forward with their youth movement on both ends of the ball.

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