Steelers Salary Cap Bubble: Time to Take LaMarr Woodley to the Woodshed? (Pun Intended)

LaMarr Woodley is in the middle of a six year contract extension he signed in 2011, a deal that made him the highest paid player in Steelers history at the time. Yet since signing that deal, Woodley has seen injuries ruin his 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons. That, plus the emergence of Jason Worilds and the drafting of Jarvis Jones has put Woodley into the spot light.

Capsule Profile of Woodley with the Steelers

Drafted in the second round of 2007, Woodley’s contribution’s as a rookie led more than a few observers to ask why he hadn’t beaten out Clark Haggans for the starting role by season’s end. In 2008 Woodley emerged as a starter, and with James Harrison on the other side, the two men began their reign of terror as the NFL’s best 3-4 outside linebacking rushing tandem.

Woodley has excelled in the playoffs, racking up 11 sacks in eight games. Woodley has recorded a sack in each of his playoff games including his rookie debut vs. Jacksonville, save for the Tebowing at Denver in 2011. It was Woodley’s strip sack of Kurt Warner that sealed the Steelers victory in Super Bowl XLIII.

The Case for Keeping Woodley

For all the talk of injuries, Woodley has delivered as advertised when healthy. He was on a tear in 2011 before getting injured. In 2012 he was less productive but in 2013 he was showing signs of being his old self before he got hurt.

Woodley has always been a streaky player, which is an odd thing to say in making the case for him, but the fact remains that if Woodley can stay healthy, there no reason why Woodley can’t return to his status as one of the top pass rushers in the league.

  • And the Steelers need strong pass rushers.

On top of that there’s the contract.

The Steelers have renegotiated Woodley’s deal several times. Cutting him outright in 2014 would result in a dead money hit of 14 million dollars. Should the team cut him after June 1st, they could pro-rate half of that hit until 2015, but given the team’s cap structure that is little more than using one credit card to payoff the next.

The Case for Cutting Woodley

Kudos to Michael Bean, the founding editor of Behind the Steel Curtain. He mentioned several times that while Woodley’s performance merited a long-term contract, he warned that Woodley’s body type would make it difficult for him to sustain a long term deal.

  • This bud’s for you Bean, you were way ahead of the curve here.

Cap situation be dammed, there’s a strong case for the Steelers cutting their losses with Woodley and moving on.

Woodley’s injuries have all been of the soft tissue nature, which means they’re more preventable than the dreaded ACL tears or breaking of bones. Someone from the Steelers locker room called out Woodley on his off season training regimen last off season. While several teammates rushed to his defense, Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review dropped this little bomb in December:

His failure to keep himself in peak condition has infuriated the Steelers at all levels, especially the coaches, who look to veterans to lead, not lag, in that area.

A veteran reporter like Kovacevic doesn’t make statements like this without basing them on sources. And that’s not all he had to say:

Upon joining the Steelers from Michigan, Woodley was among the most approachable, amicable players in the team’s circle. But he has changed dramatically, no doubt coinciding with his dropoff. He has become abrasive and aggressive with people inside and outside the team. He has also consistently found a way to blame everyone for his dropoff except the man in the mirror.

If Woodley is not going to do off the field what is required of him to perform on the field they why continue to pay him?

Curtain’s Call

The situation with LaMarr Woodley is complex. Observers have commented that the team’s decision to keep Jason Worilds on the left side already tells us which direction the team is looking long term, and that does not bode well for Woodley. Still, in season changes are one thing, off season decisions are another.

Other signals coming out of the South Side are more muddled. In the estimation of Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriolia, a man with access to a more than a few good sources, described Woodley-Worilds as an either-or situation.  However, Kevin Colbert has said that keeping Woodley and Worilds is possible.

  • The salary cap math significantly raises the “cost” of cutting Woodley.

There’s also a word to the wise. The Steelers faced a similar decision with Willie Colon last off season. Colon played 1 game in 2010-2011 and was lost in mid-2012. The team decided to cut their losses with Colon, figuring the offensive lineman was snake bitten. Colon however went on to sign with the New York Jets, where he started 16 games while the Steelers struggled on offensive line.

  • The same thing could happen with Woodley.

But it doesn’t mean it will. The Curtain’s call is that the Steelers stick with Woodley for one more year, but the Steelers themselves seem inclined to take the cap hit move on.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2014 Free Agent Focus.

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