Ryan Clark may be nearing the end of his career in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Clark has become a leader by example during his tenure in Pittsburgh, since signed as a free agent released by the Washington Redskins. A bone-crushing enforcer using his physical play to uphold the standard, Clark had become the standard.
Unfortunately, the salary cap has no mercy for aging veterans who have earned every single penny of their modest pay.
Off the field, Clark had also become a leader for the Steelers social networking campaign, setting benchmarks for interactivity between players and fans, primarily on Twitter. His personal attachment to his team's fanbase has led Clark to speak on behalf of #SteeleersNation.
Today, Clark's twitter account has been shut down, with no explanation.
Clark, who is 33 years old, had his toughest season in 2012. Multiple concussions required him to begin wearing an over-sized helmet Darth Vader would have envied. Sickle Cell traits force him to miss games in Denver due to the elevation, the site of an opening day loss in 2012 and a playoff exit in 2011. Clark was even hospitalized following a Week 17 victory over the Cleveland Browns, with serious bruising.
Clark had the opportunity to play in the Pro Bowl, but declined for injury reasons relating to his recent hospital stay, although it has been almost a month. Either he is still recovering because the bruising was so severe, or there is more to the story, especially considering Clark's deactivated Twitter.
Doug Legursky, who is slated to become a free-agent, recently shut down his own networks after tiring of fan heckling after posting a video relating to the Sandy Hook disaster. Many took his severance as suggestion he was not expecting to return anyway. Perhaps Clark is suggesting the same thing.
Whether he elects to retire or the Steelers plan to release him, the team will save cap space in an already tight fiscal year. Clark is scheduled for a cap hit of $4.75 million dollars in 2013, the final season on his contract. Should he leave following the Super Bowl, the Steeleers would save his $3.5 million base salary, reponsible only for the $1.25 million in residual bonus appropriations.
With fellow Steelers starting safety Troy Polamalu also watching the clock wind down on his own career, a Clark departure would require youngsters Robert Golden and Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith to fill his vacated cleats. The money saved by his release may allow for the re-signing of Will Allen, who is scheduled to become a free agent as well. The Steelers were already expected to select one safety in the upcoming draft, perhaps they will now be looking for a second.
Clark was expected to be a rare known moving into 2013, now his situation has become substantially suspect.