The good: Mitchell should play better in 2015 after struggling in his first season with the Steelers. The Steelers’ top free-agent signing last year, Mitchell finished second on the team with 70 tackles but did not intercept a pass or record a sack. Thomas has patiently waited for the opportunity that could come next season. It will be interesting to see what the 2013 fourth-round draft pick does if he gets regular snaps on defense. Polamalu has mentored Thomas, which speaks to what the eight-time Pro Bowler sees in Thomas.
The bad: Steelers safeties did not intercept a pass last season and combined for just five passes defended -- or 11 less than cornerback William Gay, who led the Steelers in that statistic. Polamalu did not intercept a pass or record a sack in a season for only the second time in his career. Two separate hamstring injuries sidelined Thomas for five games and he could not unseat Allen as the Steelers’ No. 3 safety. The Steelers need to figure out if Thomas is more than just a core special-teams player.
The burning question: What happens with Polamalu? He has been one of the faces of the franchise for a decade but his best days are clearly behind him. Polamalu, who turns 34 in April, acknowledged after the Steelers’ AFC wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens that it was fair to question whether he had played his last game in Pittsburgh. Polamalu may have to take a pay cut to return in 2015 -- if he intends on playing another season in what has been a Hall of Fame career
The money: Polamalu is due a base salary of $6 million in 2015. The Steelers probably will balk at paying that though it is one thing to ask cornerback Ike Taylor to take a pay cut, as he did in 2014, and quite another to make the same request of Polamalu, one of the best safeties of his generation. Mitchell is due a base salary of $4 million in 2015 while Thomas and Ventrone are each owed $585,000 in base salary next season.
Draft priority: Medium to high. This is not a good draft for safeties but the Steelers may be tempted if Alabama’s Landon Collins is still available when they make the 22nd overall pick. There is enough uncertainty at the position to think that the Steelers will draft a safety at some point, depending on what they do in free agency.
He said it: “In this game at this level you can’t lean on many people [and] particularly back there in the midst of all that grass. His performance is his performance. I think his performance got better as the season wore on regardless of who he was playing with.” -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on whether Mitchell performed better with Allen at safety than Polamalu.