Troy Polamalu
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Polamalu
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Polamalu has been the staple of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense over the past decade, and we have come to see that the unit is simply not the same without the do-it-all safety on the field.

Polamalu, 33, agreed to a three-year, $20 million contract back in March, but there is a chance this coming season may be his last in the NFL.

The Steelers drafted Shamarko Thomas out of Syracuse in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, perhaps to be Polamalu’s successor. If Thomas sees more playing time this season, as he is expected to do, he could eventually surpass Polamalu on the depth chart.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the “best guess” is that 2014 will be the last for Polamalu.

Thomas, last year’s No. 4 selection, played in some of the sub-packages and on special teams. He should get plenty of playing time next season as a backup safety for Troy Polamalu and Mike Mitchell. The best guess here is this will be Polamalu’s final NFL season. The team needs to find out if Thomas will be able to step in.

However, this plan will become moot if Thomas doesn’t take advantage of his opportunity or if Polamalu puts together an outstanding campaign in his 12th season as a pro.

And that’s not out of the question. Polamalu finished among the top five safeties in 2013, per Pro Football Focus.

Last season, NFL Media reported Polamalu would have to play “very well” down the stretch in order to retain his roster spot for the 2014 season.

In February, owner Art Rooney II said he would ensure Polamalu would retire as Steeler, then signed his to a new three-year deal, largely as a cap space-saving move.

All signs indicate Polamalu will remain with the team as long he wants, but his playing time may be cut as Thomas continues to ascend.