Troy Polamalu, I know you have a lot on your mind this off season, but allow this Steelers fan to tell you something you need to hear.
Please play next season. It's evident that you still want to play, even if many people are doubting your ability to still play the game at a high level.
Those people don't know you. None of us do. What I do know is that you've always responded when challenged in your career, and I think you'll do that again in 2015.
You bounced back from a rocky rookie season to become a Pro Bowl player the following season, leading Pittsburgh with five interceptions and blossoming into the player we all became enamored with watching on Sundays for years to come. I also remember 2009, how your injury in Week One wiped out most of that season, and how you came back stronger than ever the next year, winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in helping the Steelers reach the Super Bowl yet again.
You bounced back again in 2013 after missing most of 2012, earning another Pro Bowl selection after starting all 16 games again for the Black and Gold. Every time you've been challenged, you've responded with gusto, proving that the only thing greater than your athletic prowess is your heart.
I'm sure you'd much rather finish your career in Pittsburgh, and I think the Steelers would benefit by having you back, even in a limited role. If healthy, you would be a key contributor, even if that means you tweak your game to accommodate your 34-year-old body. And with another year of working with Mike Mitchell, the communication issues between you and him will have surely improved. The Steelers don't need 2005 Troy Polamalu; 2013 Troy would be just fine. But it looks like we'll never know what impact 2015 Troy Polamalu would have on the Steelers.
The Steelers have every right to want to go in a new direction, as you surely know. It's a business after all, and even defensive stalwarts like Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau weren't safe from General Manager Kevin Colbert's wholesale changes to the defense. While you will probably never play another down for the Steelers, you can still retire a Steeler, just like Keisel and Taylor could also choose to do.
But if you choose to keep playing, then you should do so knowing you have the support of your true fans. While Steelers fans would be lying if they said they wouldn't want you to retire a Steeler like recent Pittsburgh greats Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward did, I think they'd also rather see you retire on your own terms, even if that means it's playing somewhere else.
Personally, I hope you come back and play next year. Pittsburgh fans will be disappointed, but I also think they'll support you know matter where you play. Players like you are forever Steelers, regardless of where you end up, and when you do make that inevitable first big play somewhere else, the kind of play that leaves us fans shaking our heads in disbelief, Steelers fans everywhere will smile, knowing that good old No.43 still has it.
Above all, I hope that when you do decide to hang up your cleats for good, you do so without regrets. I hope you get the same enjoyment out of the end of your career as your fans have had watching you perform over the last 12 seasons.