By Matthew Marczi
Player: Will Allen
Experience: 10 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2013 Salary Cap Hit: $592,941
2013 Season Breakdown: The only reason Will Allen left the Pittsburgh Steelers is because, like quarterback Byron Leftwich years before, another team was willing to give him an opportunity to be a starter. As with Leftwich, it had nothing to do with wanting to leave the team. And also like Leftwich, he was demoted after just a couple games.
Allen was only a starting safety for the Dallas Cowboys for two games, though he did have an interception. He was released after five games, and a week later was signed by the Steelers, thereby reshaping the defense for the rest of the season.
The veteran safety earned the opportunity to land a starting gig in 2012 when he filled in for safety Troy Polamalu for seven games and generally played well. Because he had been with the Steelers since 2010 and also had starting experience, Dick LeBeau was able to plug him in and play him right away.
With three healthy safeties with knowledge of and experience in his defense, LeBeau was able to run the three-safety dime package that the team refers to as the quarters package, and they in fact ended up playing in this package more than even their base defense in 2013, largely due to injuries in the front seven.
Playing just 12 games with the Steelers, Allen wound up playing nearly 400 snaps in Pittsburgh. His presence allowed Polamalu to play up in the box far more often—no doubt that helped contribute to his career-high five forced fumbles. Also of note is that he finished the year penalty-free.
Allen himself forced a fumble, while recovering another, and he also intercepted a pass while with the Steelers this season. He also played well against the run, particularly against the Baltimore Ravens and in the season finale.
He also had an excellent game in coverage in the first game against the Cleveland Browns, but he also got lost in the backfield a few times, helping to contribute to some big plays. One of his worst games in coverage was in fact against the Ravens, which was one of his best showings against the run.
Free Agency Analysis: With starting free safety Ryan Clark balking at the idea of taking an implied hometown discount amidst deteriorating play and increasing age, the 31-year-old Allen, in my opinion, is likely to return. He is by far the most experienced option to start next season next to Polamalu.
Behind him will be Robert Golden, a third-year cornerback-turned-safety who played some in the third safety role very early in the season before losing that spot to rookie Shamarko Thomas, and the aforementioned Golden, who didn’t always seem like he was ready for the NFL stage.
The Steelers value Thomas’ versatility, but I would be surprised if they intend to bank on him taking over a starting role in his second season, especially being undersized. While Allen is far from a young buck, he’s not at the end of the line, and doesn’t have a ton of wear, considering he’s only spent one professional season as a starter. At worst, he will be valuable depth, and will give the Steelers the ability to use the quarters defense.
Other Steelers Free Agent Player Analysis
Ryan Clark - Unrestricted Free Agent
Emmanuel Sanders - Unrestricted Free Agent
Brett Keisel - Unrestricted Free Agent
Jerricho Cotchery - Unrestricted Free Agent
Ziggy Hood - Unrestricted Free Agent
Jason Worilds - Unrestricted Free Agent
David Johnson - Unrestricted Free Agent
Jonathan Dwyer - Unrestricted Free Agent
Fernando Velasco - Unrestricted Free Agent
Cody Wallace - Unrestricted Free Agent