Extend Timmons Now, Worry About Troy Later

Troy Polamalu, perhaps the best safety of this generation, is in the last year of a four-year, $30 million contract he signed before the 2007 season. Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers’ first-round pick in ’07, has a year left on a rookie deal that will pay him $15 million.

On Friday, LaMarr Woodley got a well-deserved raise — $61.5 million over six years, including $22 million in guarantees. With Woodley taken care of, the media immediately turned their attention to Troy as next in line for a new deal. As expected, Troy didn’t say much of anything other than to point out that he’d like to retire a Steeler.

I’d love that too. Except that I’m not convinced that Troy should be next on the front office’s to-do list. Instead, I’d focus on Timmons now, let Troy play the year on his current deal, see if his body can hold up over 16 games plus the playoffs (history suggests it won’t happen), and revisit things next offseason.

It sounds cold and calculating and, in general, it makes me uncomfortable to operate like a bidnessman when talking about one of the team’s most valuable players. I mean, this is Troy. We’ve seen what a Polamalu-less defense looks like and I’m still haunted by visions of David Garrard outrunning Tyrone Carter during that 2007 wild card game.

But here’s the thing, and we talked about it on the podcast: Timmons may not be as important as Polamalu to the defense right now, but he’s still one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL — and he will get better. What you see is what you get with Troy. And when he’s healthy, it’s amazing to watch. The problem, obviously, is that he struggles to stay on the field, missing large chunks of the 2009 season and operating at less than 100 percent during the 2010 postseason. This is what happens when you’re 30 and have played safety like a kamikaze for seven seasons.

It’s also why it makes more sense to lock Timmons up first, preferably before he goes bonkers in 2011 and his asking price goes through the roof.

And, yes, if that happens the Steelers could just franchise him but, as Gretz suggested on the podcast, I’d rather reserve that option for Troy. Because, really, how many more years can we expect Polamalu to perform at a high level given his style of play? Two, three, maybe four tops?

Something else to consider: when Troy has missed time LeBeau has given some of that responsibility to Timmons. Clearly, Juan can’t do everything Troy does, but that goes both ways.

Ideally, they’d both be in Pittsburgh for the next five years. And who knows, maybe that happens. It’s just that if it were up to me, I’d start with Timmons and revisit Troy after the season. It pains me to say it, but it’s probably the right thing to do.

For now, though, it sounds like the Steelers have put any contract-extension talk on the back burner while they sift through the free-agent leftovers. But sooner or later the front office will have to make a decision and here’s to hoping they start with Juan and go from there.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

    I agree.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-Marczi/8833102 Matthew Marczi

    Well said, and I agree entirely with the logic. I never could find out, though, where Timmons got the “Juan” nickname from.

    • Fantrappedindelaware

      I think that is what his father calls him?  I remember reading that somewhere.  Or I just made that up.  Either way, that is why, I think.

    • Anonymous

      It was a nickname growing up. It comes from his middle name, Olajuwon.

    • EasyLikeSundayMorning

      The Olajuwon / Juan story was in Jim Wexell’s Steelers Nation book. I think his dad wanted Olajuwon to be his son’s first name and compromised with his mom, making it his middle name. And his family all calls him Juan.

      Wexell has a particularly good ear for interesting stories around people’s names. In addition to Juan, the first time I found out that Troy’s birth name wasn’t Polamalu was from Wex. Troy’s birth surname was Aumua, but he started using after his aunt and uncle’s last name after living with them.

      If my memory serves, Jim Wexell is not his birth name, either, which the pop psychologist in me thinks may be the reason he’s so attuned to names.

  • Steve

    I hate this post, Ryan.  Hate it.  But I have to agree. 

    And now I feel dirty.  And small. 

  • Cols714

    Yep on all of this. Timmons is probably the single most overlooked defensive player in the NFL. I hate saying that because I know that all fans of all teams think that their players are better than they really are. Except if you are a Browns fan I guess. But Timmons is basically Patrick Willis without the same hype. He’s just overshadowed by Harrison, Woodley, Farrior and the fact that he had a much slower start to his career than Willis did.

    Sign him now. Troy will be back next year regardless. I hope that Troy can stay healthy and play another three or four years, but I don’t have much faith in it.

  • Randy Steele

    Meh. Do we really care how it’s done or when it’s done as long as it gets done? What do you bet the Steelers’ front office gets them both signed one way or another?