By Matthew Marczi
Player: Ryan Clark
Position: Free Safety
Experience: 12 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2013 Salary Cap Hit: $4,750,000
2013 Season Breakdown: I doubt many would dispute the fact that free safety Ryan Clark had his worst season with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013. But it’s important to remind that that perception is colored by the fact that he has been playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level for the majority of his tenure here.
Like his running mate Troy Polamalu, Clark had some high-profile and noticeable mistakes during the year that helped negatively skew a review of his year. Some of that is fair—blown coverages and missed assignments leading to touchdowns, glaring missed tackles—some of it isn’t.
Clark found himself in some unusual territory during the year as well. Because the Steelers lost Larry Foote in the first game of the season, they used a lot more sub-packages during the year and used Polamalu as a quasi-linebacker when they played their quarters package, which they used very frequently.
That often left Clark as a single high safety, which is not something that he has always been asked to do. This was especially the case later in the season after the acquisition of Will Allen, which left Clark out of a lot of the action.
Still, the NFL generously credits Clark with 104 tackles, which would be the most of his career if it were actually accurate. It is also the third straight season in which he is credited with 100 or more tackles after never topping 90 before.
Of those 104 tackles, only 61 of them were deemed primary or solo tackles. Contrast that to the 74 and 71 of his 102 and 100 tackles from 2012 and 2011, respectively. How many of his 43 assisted tackles would hold up? For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus credits Clark with 91 tackles, though only 16 of them are assists.
Clark ended the year with two interceptions, but he managed just four pass deflections, and he also allowed three touchdowns as the primary coverage, irrespective of other touchdowns that he contributed to by being out of position.
Free Agency Outlook: I think the Steelers would like to be able to move on from Clark after signs of decline in 2013, but it’s hard to say that they have any legitimate alternatives. Assuming they re-sign Allen again, they would have three safeties on the roster—including Robert Golden and Shamarko Thomas—with at least some playing experience, but it’s hard to project that any of them would be an improvement over Clark.
By that same token, Clark has stated that he expects to be paid for his services, which suggests that he might price himself out of what the Steelers are willing to pay for him. Of course, there might not be much of a market for the 34-year-old.
Yet he was the same player just a few years ago that nearly signed with the Miami Dolphins before checking back in with Pittsburgh and getting a deal done because he knew he wanted to play here. If he wants another year in Pittsburgh, he may have to swallow some pride and take less money—maybe even a rotational role—to continue playing for Dick LeBeau.
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