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Steelers mailbag: Why has there been no decision on Troy Polamalu?

3/27/2015

Here is the latest Pittsburgh Steelers' mailbag. If you have a question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #mail.

@ScottBrown_ESPN Yep, Hines Ward can attest that having the status of franchise icon was not enough to spare the Steelers from releasing him three years ago. The biggest difference between the former Super Bowl MVP and Polamalu is that when the Steelers released Ward they were in the process of clearing room under the salary cap. The Steelers can afford to give Polamalu time because they don't have any pressing issues with the salary cap. That does not mean they can wait forever for the eight-time Pro Bowler to decide if he wants to play in 2015 -- and if that is the case the Steelers will release Polamalu -- or retire. Here is what Steelers president Art Rooney II said at the conclusion of the NFL owners meetings earlier this week on a decision regarding Polamalu: "We haven't put any drop date on it. Still more to come."

@ScottBrown_ESPN I will defer to new Chicago Bears coach John Fox, who knows a heck of a lot more about defense than I do. Fox, at the NFL owners meetings, said, "The best pass defense in the world is the pass rush." Unfortunately for the Steelers, they have issues as far as getting after getting after the cornerback and covering receivers. Even more unfortunate for them is there is no quick fix for either. That is why the Steelers have to draft well this year since they will presumably focus on defense and also hope cornerback Cortez Allen bounces back after a disastrous 2014 season and Jarvis Jones stays healthy and emerges as a force in 2015. A lot has to go right for the defense to make significant improvement next season. Fortunately for the Steelers they should have the offensive firepower to help cover for a defense that is still in transition.

@ScottBrown_ESPN All signs point to no, especially considering how tight-lipped the Steelers have been publicly about Troy Polamalu. I think the only thing that can save him -- and this is only if the eight-time Pro Bowler is agreeable to a massive pay cut and a reduced role in 2015 -- is if Dan Rooney or Art Rooney II intervenes on his behalf. I don't see that happening since the Steelers rarely, if ever, let sentiment guide football and business decisions. It forces them to make hard decisions sometimes and could very well lead to the release of one of the most beloved players in franchise history. I think that happens, unfortunately, if Polamalu wants to play in 2015.

@ScottBrown_ESPN Defensive end Cameron Heyward is next in line. And I look at it the way I did with Ben Roethlisberger before he signed his five-year contract earlier this month. It is a question of when and not if as far as signing Heyward to a long-term contract. He is a cornerstone of the defense and has emerged as one of the Steelers' leaders. Heyward is due to make $6.96 million this season and the Steelers will lower his salary-cap hit in 2015 when they sign him to a multi-year contract. There is no urgency to get anything done and the Steelers will wait until after the draft before serious negotiations commence. I could see them signing Heyward in June as they did with center Maurkice Pouncey last year and getting a deal done with left tackle Kelvin Beachum after that, though maybe not until training camp.

@ScottBrown_ESPN I think they will sign a cornerback with the hopes of getting the same return on a low-risk signing as they did last year with Brice McCain. They may also sign a defensive end to provide depth behind Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, though if Cam Thomas has survived this long maybe they are content with him as a player who can swing between defensive end and nose tackle. The Steelers have made it clear that significant additions at cornerback and outside linebacker will come through the draft, so don't expect much from any free-agent signings they make moving forward.