The Pittsburgh Steelers defense was far from perfect in 2015, and the thought of the team losing a majority of their cornerbacks makes you shudder with the thought of who will replace them in 2016. The same can be said about a few players at the inside linebacker and safety positions.
The Steelers deploy one of the best inside linebacker depth charts in the NFL, but that depth chart may take a hit if Sean Spence chooses to bolt when free agency starts and try to find a team where he isn't supplanted as nothing more than a backup.
At the safety position it has been Mike Mitchell and a combination of Will Allen, Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden to play alongside him. Two of those three players, Allen and Golden, will be free agents to start the 2016 season.
Let's take a look at the 2016 linebacker and safety free agents:
Robert Golden - S - $1,542,000 (Current Salary)
Will Allen - S - $1,050,000
Sean Spence - ILB - $676,345
Starting at the safety position, the Steelers are clearly in dire straits when looking at who is returning. The team will have Mitchell back and Shamarko Thomas. Thomas, who was slotted to start in 2015, was unable to hold onto a starting position due to issues Mike Tomlin declared as "above the neck". Will Allen isn't getting any younger, but to his credit played a solid brand of football this past season as a reliable veteran alongside Mitchell. Surprisingly, the team's special teams captain, Golden, played well when Allen was injured as well. There is a chance the Steelers could have both players back in 2016, but the likelihood remains just one comes back.
If there was ever a player who owed an organization a tip of the cap, it would be Sean Spence to the Steelers. When Spence was drafted and suffered an ugly knee injury in his rookie preseason, there was talk he would never walk properly, let alone play again. Keith Butler said it would be a "miracle" if he could ever play in the NFL again, and look at him now.
Spence's story is great, but the Steelers sticking behind him through thick and thin should allow Spence to possibly desire to stay in Pittsburgh. He could test the free agent waters to see if there is a team willing to give him a shot at starting, but with Ryan Shazier's injury history, Spence could still see significant snaps if he signed a friendly 2-year deal to stay in Pittsburgh.
Prediction: As stated earlier, I only see the Steelers bringing back one of their current free agent safeties, and that would be Golden, in my opinion. Golden doubles as a tremendous special teams player, and showed some real promise when playing alongside Mitchell this season. As for Spence, I see the team giving him a fair offer to stay, and I would hope he would take it. The Steelers were behind him when he needed them, and hopefully he will feel the same way about them when the team needs him for quality depth.