It's tough to argue with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. When the team is signing back veterans and not really missing much in terms of younger players being on the roster (if they were cut, they weren't picked up elsewhere, or they signed on the team's practice squad), perhaps the older players should have stayed.
That's a fair observation, and one Polamalu shared with Tribune Review writer Mark Kaboly recently.
"When you bring a guy like (Harrison) back and you don’t dig into your youth it tells you something," Polamalu said. "It tells you that some of the older guys still would’ve helped us out if they would’ve kept them around."
But the issue isn't mainly old vs. young, it's the size of contracts. There may be a wider gap between those two aspects and their playing ability.
The reality in the NFL is teams are going to go with younger over older in most cases. The fact the younger player theoretically has more opportunity to grow and improve is one piece of it, but their contracts are typically a bigger reason. The CBA allows teams to account for the cap price of a second-year player when signing a veteran, so the recent acquisition of James Harrison and the previous signing of Brett Keisel cost the Steelers about half as much as their contract would dictate against the salary cap, but the Steelers are still paying them the veteran minimum, which is about $1 million.
To this point, Keisel has done fairly well, all things considered. There have been some ups and some downs. Overall, it would appear they made a good decision to bring him back.
Did they make the "right" decision?
That's a question probably better answered later this year when, theoretically, rookie Stephon Tuitt has had enough time to digest the defense in practice and get enough reps on the field to see a marked level of improvement. My thought from the beginning on Tuitt was he had the background to get on the field and fill in. To this point, he has only played 11 snaps per game and he hasn't really done much with those few opportunities, but that doesn't mean it's worthless either.
As far as Harrison and outside linebacker goes, they turned to the veteran to back-up the younger player they signed instead of the veteran in free agency. The Steelers chose Jarvis Jones in the draft over retaining Harrison, but then they signed Arthur Moats in free agency over Harrison as well. Moats will get the start Sunday in Week 4 vs. the Buccaneers, and it figures to be his position until he proves it shouldn't be.
Like most players in the NFL, the cold reality is they're keeping a seat warm for a younger player with more potential. Perhaps Polamalu has a point in suggesting the amount of older veterans they've brought back suggests they just should have kept them in the first place, but what's more realistic is to review and analyze why, outside of injuries, the Steelers haven't gotten enough from the younger players to make all of this a non-issue.