Could Colts Pursue Pittsburgh’s (Troy) Polamalu?


According to’s Ian Rapoport, longtime Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu may no longer be in his team’s plans and could be a serious candidate for imminent offseason release (Via’s Marc Sessler), which could potentially pique the interest of the safety-needy Indianapolis Colts:

"“NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the organization believes the celebrated safety has played his last game for the Steelers, per a pair of team sources."

"Rapoport was told that the defender is not in Pittsburgh’s plans for 2015 and won’t be back. The only question is how his exit will play out.”"

Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu (43) rushes at the line of scrimmage against the Baltimore Ravens during the first quarter in the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Heinz Field. The Ravens won 30-17. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While Polamalu’s best days are clearly behind him as he’s set to turn 34 years old, he could theoretically provide the Colts with a stopgap solution at the starting safety position until a long-term answer is seemingly found. The Colts found similar success with veteran free agent safety Mike Adams on a 1-year deal last season, and it’s possible that the team could go to the veteran safety well once more.

With LaRon Landry‘s release, the Colts are definitely in the market for a starting caliber safety this offseason to play alongside the aforementioned Mike Adams, who himself is a free agent hopeful. However, this year’s rookie safety class besides Alabama’s Landon Collins leaves a lot to be desired as far as ready-to-go impact defenders, and the veteran free agent safety crop is a fairly uninspiring group as well (besides perhaps Tyvon Branch). 

Like the Colts and wideout Reggie Wayne, the Pittsburgh Steelers may be faced with the always difficult football decision to push a longtime beloved player and future Hall of Famer out the door before they’re actually ready to go. The only thing is, Polamalu is still theoretically under contract until after the 2016 season with the Steelers, which makes the decision even more awkward and challenging due to a potential public release. He’s set for an $8.25 million cap hit in 2015, which doesn’t seem nearly in-line with his production this past season.Per Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Ed Bouchette, the Pittsburgh Steelers are actually just hoping Polamalu retires, so the team is not faced with the unpopular and difficult decision to release one of the franchise’s all-time great players:

"“That is the elephant in the room,” Bouchette said. “I expect him not to be here by some means. The Steelers are hoping he would retire, but I don’t know if he is going to.”"

Make no mistake about it though, Troy Polamalu is one of the best safeties to ever play the position and is a surefire future Hall of Famer for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In addition to his once outstanding athleticism, incredible instincts, and signature long-flowing hair, he remains one of the most cerebral players ever seen on the defensive side of the football. One could make the strong argument that he was almost what Peyton Manning was, except on defense at safety with blazing speed.

Sep 7, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Detail view of the hair of Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu (43) on the sidelines against the Cleveland Browns during the first quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Polamalu’s an incredibly well-spoken and articulate safety, who has been the leader and face of the Steelers defense for more than a decade. Since being drafted in the 1st round of the 2003 NFL Draft out of USC, Polamalu has gone on to become an 5x All-Pro, 8x Pro Bowler, and 2x Super Bowl Champion, all with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s one of the best safeties that I’ve ever gotten the fortune to see play the safety position during my lifetime and clearly one of the best ever.

Still, as noted, Polamalu is set to turn 34 years old and is clearly not the same player he once was. Specifically, he’s battled injuries somewhat in recent seasons, having missed 4 games this past season due to a sprained knee. However, he is just one year removed from a season in which he made all 16 regular season starts.

For Polamalu, the athleticism and speed just aren’t quite what they once were due to age and injuries. However, given the realistic alternatives, Polamalu doesn’t look like all that bad of an option on a 1-2 year deal if the price is right. Obviously, the Colts shouldn’t pay Polamalu for his past prolific production, but it looks like he could still help the team at starting safety as a short-term solution. Last season, Polamalu recorded 61 tackles in 12 starts for the Steelers.

According to ProFootballFocus (subscription), Polamalu received an overall grade of +0.1 overall, which effectively placed him as the 48th best safety overall. While that’s not necessarily a bad mark by any means, it’s worth noting that LaRon Landry received a +1.6 overall grade, and we all know how good he actually fared on the field (i.e. it wasn’t pretty). That grade combined with Polamalu’s advanced age and diminishing physical skills, and there are certainly causes for concern.

Nov 2, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Justin Forsett (29) is hit by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (43) during the first half of the game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

However, what does clearly stick out to me regarding Polamalu was his +5.0 grade in run defense per ProFootballFocus. That was tied for the 9th best among all safeties in run defense, along with New England Patriots All-Pro safety Devin McCourty.

Even in his 13th NFL season, Polamalu still had a knack for playing the run like a human missile, just as he always has. Coming off an embarrassing AFC Championship Game loss in which Patriots powerback LeGarrette Blount ran all over the defense yet again, the Colts could clearly use a run-stopping safety to help shut down a team’s running game and provide an in-the-box presence.

It’s worth noting that Polamalu was actually respectable in coverage too. Per ProFootballFocus, his 26.4 coverage snaps per reception was the 23rd best in the league. While that’s not great, it’s better than both former Colts safety Antoine Bethea (25.0) and the Colts very own Mike Adams (22.5), who both enjoyed renaissance seasons this past year.

There are certainly drawbacks however. Despite the many years of combined experience and strong veteran leadership that a safety tandem of Polamalu and Adams would theoretically provide, it would easily be the oldest starting safety duo in the league. Both safeties are set to turn 34 years old, and the Colts defense ideally needs to get more athletic and faster as a whole, not older, despite both players’ winning pedigrees.

If push comes to shove though, the Colts signing Troy Polamalu as a short-term stopgap at the starting safety position wouldn’t be a bad decision, if he would choose to join this contending Colts team at a reasonable price. The team could then move forward with Polamalu in the short-term until a long-term answer at the position actually presents itself. Perhaps Polamalu, like Adams before him, could re-discover his fountain of youth with the Colts.

Aug 16, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (43) stands on the sidelines prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 19-16. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports