Pittsburgh Steelers: Is this the final ride for Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark?

Sep 16, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu (43) and free safety Ryan Clark (25) chase down a Cincinnati Bengals ball carrier at Paul Brown Stadium. Cincinnati won the game 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

After a second consecutive disappointing season, there are likely going to be  major changes on the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers next season.

Could those changes start in the secondary?

For years now, the Steelers have been solid when it comes to their safeties as when he is healthy, you could always count on Troy Polamalu lining up next to Ryan Clark, giving the Black and Gold a pair of top-level NFL safeties.

But could these final seven games be it for both Clark and Polamalu in a Steelers uniform?

The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport has been in the news lately as it pertains to the Steelers and he is at it again as he is reporting that both Clark and Polamalu have to play very well down the stretch in order to return next season.

Think what you want about Rapoport after his Ben Roethlisberger trade story, but this news makes a little more sense.

Neither guy has been particularly good this season and it makes complete sense to move on from both players.

As things pertain to Clark, he is an unrestricted free agent who will simply be out of the Steelers budget. For the past few years Clark has been very good next to Polamalu and has turned out to be one of the Steelers’ better defensive players, recording over 100 combined tackles the past two seasons. That won’t happen this year unless Clark has a spectacular close to the season.

This Steelers defense hasn’t made the big plays the past two seasons and Clark is a part of that. Clark is going to get paid pretty decent from some team in the offseason, but he is 34 years old and will be coming off a less than spectacular season. It makes little sense for the Steelers to throw big money at him at this stage in his career.

As for Polamalu, the situation is similar. Unlike Clark, the former Defensive Player of the Year is signed through the 2014 season.

When Polamalu signed a four-year extension prior to the 2011 season it looked like a good thing to do, but since then Polamalu hasn’t been the same guy and his contract turned out to be one of the worst in the NFL.

He was struggling with injuries in 2011 and teams were able to pick him apart late in that season. That’s a trend that has continued over the course of the next couple of seasons.

Last year, he played just seven games and 386 snaps, a mere 39 percent of Pittsburgh’s defensive opportunities. This year he may still have the instincts to be a dominant player but at age 32, doesn’t have the same skill set to produce those results.

The bottom line is that the Steelers are paying Polamalu like he is one of the top defensive players in the league, something he no longer is. It makes sense for them to get out of that contract at the end of the season. Next year Polamalu’s base salary is $8.25 million with a cap hit of $10.877 million.

It makes sense for Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert to get out from as much of that as he can.

It would be sad to see the duo go, more so in Polamalu’s case, but like it or not, this Steelers team needs to be in rebuilding mode. You can’t do that with a lot of money tied up in a pair of safeties in their 30′s.

Of course, there are still seven games left in the 2013 season. That’s plenty of time for both Clark and Polamalu to have something to say about that.

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Topics: Pittsburgh Steelers, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu

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