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Making a Case for the Pittsburgh Steelers to Retain LaMarr Woodley

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 6: LaMarr Woodley #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after sacking Bruce Gadkowski #5 of the Oakland Raiders during the game on December 6, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Andrew WatkinsCorrespondent IJanuary 1, 2014

In recent weeks, I’ve seen many fans clamoring for the Pittsburgh Steelers to cut their losses with LaMarr Woodley. The former All-Pro player looked like anything but an All-Pro in his past two injury-riddled seasons.

After posting 44 sacks in his first four years as a starter, Woodley’s managed just nine in his past two. That lack of production can be attributed largely to Woodley’s injury woes of late.

Woodley’s missed 14 games in the past three seasons, and coupled with that, he’s set to make over $13 million in 2014. And I’ve yet to even mention this season’s emergence of Jason Worilds (whom the Steelers face an interesting decision with as well) or the hopeful development of 2013 first-rounder Jarvis Jones.

With all these factors taken into consideration, it seems to be a no-brainer that the Steelers should thank Woodley for his valued years of service and absorb the cap hit his release entails. Barring the unlikely event that they locate a trade partner willing to take on his hefty price tag, that is.

However, this article isn’t arguing from that side. On the contrary, I think there are some viable reasons for Woodley to remain in town. That isn’t to necessarily say that I feel it’s in the Steelers’ best interest to keep him around, just that I think it’d be interesting to provide a take from the opposite perspective.

 

He Wouldn’t Be the First to Overcome Injury

Steelers fans know full well that some players, though injury-prone, are too valuable on the field to cut ties with. One needs look no further than Troy Polamalu as an example.

Polamalu’s missed at least three games in four separate seasons, but he’s been crucial to several Super Bowl-caliber defenses when healthy. In fact, Polamalu’s two best individual seasons (2008 and 2010) were uncoincidentally the two in which the Steelers advanced to the big game.

Now, that isn’t to say Woodley is of the same caliber as Polamalu. No, attaining a player of Polamalu’s capability is a rare feat. Nonetheless, one could make the argument that Woodley was just as instrumental to those postseason runs as his teammate.

In the 2009 and 2011 playoffs, Woodley totaled nine sacks, none more important than a game-ending strip-sack of Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XLIII. It’s fair to question whether or not Woodley will regain that form, but if he should, Steelers fans would hate to see it be in another uniform.

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  LaMarr Woodley #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts after he sacked quarterback Kurt Warner #13 of the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Mc
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

 

Uncertainty at His Position

Woodley is among the bigger uncertainties the Steelers face heading into the 2014 season. However, he isn’t even the only player at his position that there are questions about.

Jones was pressed into duty from Week 1 of his rookie year and underwhelmed to say the least. Aside from a bone-jarring hit on the Tennessee Titans Chris Johnson in the season opener and an impressive Week 17 showing against the lowly Cleveland Browns, there was little from Jones’ debut season worth noting.

One of the lone positives to come from Jones’ lackluster season was that it enabled former second-round pick Jason Worilds to finally live up to his billing. Worilds, who was a serviceable spot-starter in previous years, notched all of his team-leading eight sacks after the Steelers’ Week 5 bye.

Of course, there are some concerns regarding Worilds as well. He’s had injury troubles of his own, and some question how much 2013 being a contract year played into his surprising breakout. And speaking of that contract, it’s entirely possible the market for pass-rushers will force the Steelers to allow Worilds to test free agency.

These issues do nothing to alleviate the concerns surrounding Woodley, but he inarguably has the best resume among current Steelers at his position. That alone could garner a second thought from management in regard to his job security.

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