Steelers Free Agent Focus: Investment in Al Woods Goes Up in Smoke….

While Mike Mitchell’s arrival might have signaled the rejuvenation of the Steelers secondary, Al Woods departure to the Tennessee Titans confirms that Pittsburgh has a problem on defensive line.

  • Let’s get one things straight. Al Woods was no world beater. His absence certainly shouldn’t doesn’t doom the Steelers chances for 2014

But Wood’s defection is troubling for a number of reasons nonetheless.

Steelers Defensive Line Depth Now and Issue

The first involves the question of depth of the Steelers defensive line. Cam Heyward is budding star. Steve McLendon didn’t make anyone forget he wasn’t Casey Hampton, but his play is probably more solid than many outsiders give him credit.

  • After that the Steelers have no depth on defensive line.


In the short term the loss of Woods can bring a positive in the return of Brett Keisel. But Keisel is 36 and has a year left in him at most. Ziggy Hood also remains an option. However, Hood is visiting with other NFL teams, and was not expected back prior to free agency.

Regardless, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a hole to fill on defensive line. The Steelers could draft a lineman, but Hampton is the only defensive lineman to start and contribute as a rookie since Bill Cowher’s arrival in 1993.

The Steelers have had somewhat better luck with free agent defensive lineman during John Mitchell’s tenure, in the form of Ray Seals and Nolan Harrison. But the free agent market on defensive lineman is thin – hence the interest in Woods and Hood.

Long Term Issue

The other troubling aspect to Wood’s departure is for what it represents in the long term. The Steelers picked up Woods in 2010 after he was cut by Tampa Bay. The process repeated itself in 2011. Woods didn’t hold down a regular roster spot in 2012, and only then got spot duty. Finally, in 2013 he became part of the rotation.

Woods was listed as starting two games last year. He saw regular action at both defensive end and nose tackle and recorded two sacks and defensed two passes.

  • At the very worst, Woods was developing into a viable 4th defensive lineman in a 3-4 scheme.
  • At best, he was clawing his way towards a starting role.

In short, the Steelers invested a lot of time in developing and training Woods and now Tennessee will benefit from that.

Make no mistake about it, Steel Curtain Rising is not crying victim here. Al Woods should get whatever money he can get. And at 2.5 million dollars a year, he likely got in Nashville what he couldn’t get in Pittsburgh.

But coming on the heels of Keenan Lewis last year, this is the second time in two years the Steelers have acted as a veritable farm system for other NFL teams. This was common in the 1990’s of course, but ended with the opening of Heinz Field.

  • Now the Steelers salary cap situation has them repeating history. And not for the better.

To some degree or another this was unavoidable. It’s easy to say the Steelers should have gotten Woods under contract before letting him test the market. Woods agent knew full well what the market would bear and advised his client accordingly.

Regardless, its frustrating to see the Steelers invest Woods to see it all go up in smoke.

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