Steelers face decision on Woodley's future
By Alan Robinson
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 2:51 p.m.
LaMarr Woodley is out this week. Out next week, too.
Once the season is over, is he out of a job?
Woodley's 2013 season ended abruptly Tuesday when his second calf injury this year landed him on the injured reserve list. He will end up missing five games and all but two snaps of another.
Woodley, coming off two injury-interrupted seasons, was a force again with five sacks in his first six games. But he has no sacks since and, because of injuries, he has played only 78 of the Steelers' 420 defensive plays in the second half of the season.
Woodley had 39 sacks in his first four NFL seasons before signing a $61.5 million, six-year contract. He has 18 sacks since then, sitting out 14 full games and most of three others.
“He's been solid, not only this season but over the course of his career,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “But obviously, particularly in recent years, he's had to battle some injuries, unfortunately for him and for us.”
Those injuries often kept him out of the lineup when games matter most. He has played in only 10 games in the second half of a season since 2011, plus two snaps Sunday against Cincinnati. He has not had a multiple-sack game in more than two years.
The Steelers are reluctant to keep paying players who are injury-prone, one reason they cut starting offensive lineman Willie Colon last spring.
However, Woodley's contract and their lack of experienced depth at outside linebacker — rookie Jarvis Jones has only one sack — could greatly influence their decision on whether to bring back Woodley next season, when he will turn 30.
They could save $16.58 million in salary by letting Woodley go. But $14.17 million in dead money from his deal counts against their salary cap. If they were to release him, all of that money would count against their 2014 cap and would represent more than one-tenth of it.
If they wait until June 1, they could defer $8.58 million worth of that cap hit to 2015. But $13.59 million of Woodley's contract would count against them until that date, limiting their ability to shop for a replacement.
Woodley was hurt only a week after switching from left outside linebacker to the right side to accommodate Jason Worilds, who had six sacks in six games on the left side. Worilds can become an unrestricted free agent after this season.
To replace Woodley, the Steelers signed five-year veteran Jamaal Westerman, who was cut last week by Buffalo.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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