After seven productive seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, linebacker LaMarr Woodley is about to find himself without a team.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Monday that the organization has decided it will release Woodley from his contract:
Steelers will release LB LaMarr Woodley at 4 ET Tuesday, designate him a post June 1 casualty, per source. He will be free to sign Tuesday.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 10, 2014
Woodley, who has 57 career sacks including four seasons of nine or more, will be cut in a move that was seemingly more about salary-cap issues than an indictment of Woodley's play.
Prior to this news, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert discussed the importance of getting under the $133 million salary cap by March 11, per Bob Labriola of Steelers.com.
"You obviously have to be in compliance," Colbert said, "(but then) are we $1 under the cap or are we $3 million under the cap? We won't know that really until we get to March 11. You hope to have maneuverability at that stage."
Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review broke down the Steelers' savings by releasing Woodley:
LaMarr Woodley's cap hit was to be $13.59 million in 2014. That drops to $5.6 mil as post-June 1 cut. But $8.5 mil counts against '15 cap— Alan Robinson (@arobinson_Trib) March 10, 2014
Until June 1, Woodley's entire $13.59 million cap hit counts against 2014 cap. So cutting him doesn't help in signing free agents.— Alan Robinson (@arobinson_Trib) March 10, 2014
The 29-year-old University of Michigan product's play has dropped off a bit in recent years with just nine sacks combined over the past two seasons. That is partially due to the fact that he has been hampered by injuries, though, as he hasn't played all 16 games in a regular season since 2010.
Woodley was a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro in 2009, but getting back to that level of play won't be easy, especially now that he'll likely be transitioning to a new defensive system.
There were several reasons behind this decision to cut Woodley, but the status of outside linebacker Jason Worilds was definitely a factor. Worilds, 26, enjoyed a career-best season in 2013 with eight sacks, and it led to the Steelers placing the transition tag on him, according to Mark Kaboly of TribLive.com.
Worilds will earn $9.754 million after signing the tender, per ESPN.com. It is possible that the two sides could come to an agreement on a long-term deal, but it necessitated Woodley's departure regardless.
David Todd of 970 ESPN knew that the writing was on the wall for Woodley once Worilds accepted the tag:
Surprised Worilds hurried to sign Transition tag, but this should guarantee end of LaMarr Woodley’s #Steelers career. Can’t see keeping both— David Todd (@DavidMTodd) March 4, 2014
NBC Sports Network's Ross Tucker questioned whether Worilds understood the ramifications that came with signing the transition tender:
Wonder if Jason Worilds realizes he cut LaMarr Woodley when he signed that tender— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) March 4, 2014
It's tough to blame Worilds for accepting the tag since he is at least guaranteed to make elite money for one season. Worilds essentially supplanted Woodley as the Steelers' top outside pass-rusher last season, and the organization apparently felt as though the two players were going in opposite directions.
Pittsburgh has slowly been moving out the old guard on the defensive side of the ball. Woodley is the latest casualty after linebacker James Harrison got the boot last year. Harrison struggled in his first year away from the Steel City with the Cincinnati Bengals, and Woodley will have to undergo a transition as well in 2014.
Is releasing Woodley the right move by the Steelers?
The Steelers' defense is unique under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, so Woodley will undoubtedly have to adapt with his new team. He still has the ability to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks when healthy, but he has to land with a team that will utilize him correctly.
As for Pittsburgh, losing a player like Woodley certainly hurts the team's depth on defense. Depth could be a real issue for the Steelers this season if injuries arise on the defensive side of the ball, but that is the nature of playing under a salary cap.
Tough decisions need to be made by every team on a yearly basis, and releasing Woodley obviously qualifies as such.
Steelers fans will always remember his contributions, including his two-sack performance in the team's Super Bowl XLIII triumph. Woodley has been unable to return to that form, but maybe a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered.
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