Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Steelers Place LaMarr Woodley on IR - Are His Days Numbered?

"All of those things are up to discussion....Obviously with a new injury, similar to the one that had kept him out for a number of weeks, he may not be available to us and that might be a process that's discussed this afternoon." - from the Mike Tomlin Press Conference discussing LaMarr Woodley's injury - http://tinyurl.com/nbtqlt9

After discussing it, they made the decision many knew was coming. The  Pittsburgh Steelers placed outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley on Injured Reserve Tuesday, ending his season.

Woodley injured his calf when jumping to knock down an Andy Dalton pass on the second play of the Bengals game last Sunday night. Earlier this season, Woodley injured his left calf. This latest injury was to his right calf. In addition to the ankle injury, he was also hampered by a hamstring injury.

Over the course of the last three years, Woodley has seen his play and time on the field diminish. He has played in only 34 games, has missed 14 games as well as being unable to finish several others due to injury and has recorded just 18 sacks.

Not exactly living up to the approximate $36 million "earned" during that time. Meanwhile, Jason Worilds is an unrestricted free agent and has outplayed Woodley for essentially a year and a half.

As Steelers Digest's Bob Labriola pointed out on Tuesday, "While Woodley will have missed 14 games because of injury during the past three seasons, during the three seasons from 2008-10 he was one of the most versatile and productive outside linebackers in football. He stopped the run, recorded 35 sacks, had three interceptions and defensed 12 passes, forced six fumbles and recovered seven."

That, though, raises questions as to what could and/or should be done with a player who can't seem to stay on the field. Looking at what Labriola pointed out, it feels as if we're dealing with degrees of diminishing returns.

That being the case, taking into the pros and the cons of the situation is imperative.

For one, there is his contract. Per sportrac.com, Woodley is scheduled to earn $8 million in 2014 and to count $13.59 million against the Salary Cap. If the Steelers release him before June 1st, though, he will be a $14.17 million dead money hit against the 2014 cap. - http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/pittsburgh-steelers/lamarr-woodley/

However, if the Steelers designate Woodley a June 1st release, they'd carry his full $13.59 million cap hit until then. That would save them his $8 million base salary, again against the Cap.

Alex, I'll take "Chickens Coming Home To Roost" for $8 million.

But, they would still suffer a $8.58 million 2015 dead money hit because of the prorated money from bonuses and restructures still on the books.

This all becomes especially relevant with the emergence of Jason Worilds.

Worilds is an unrestricted free agent linebacker after the season and the Steelers will want to do what they can to get him under contract or to place the franchise tag on him. Doing either would require having the cap space to do so, especially come June 1st.

Finding a way to bring back Worilds should be priority one. Last season, he had five sacks in 422 defensive snaps. According to Football Outsiders, that equates to approximately 10 sacks over the course of a season.

Beyond that, in an article If It Ain't Steel wrote back in March, Worilds "is decidedly better on the left side than on the right. Nonetheless, during those three seasons {2010-12}, he played 999 snaps or the equivalent to one full season. In that time he has 10 career sacks" in 10 career starts to that point.

This season he has become a virtual sack machine with six sacks in seven games and his 18 quarterback hits are more than the other outside linebackers on the team...combined. Most all of this is also, again, since moving to the left side. A fact which isn't lost on Tomlin.

“I think he is emerging and developing like all players should,” Tomlin said at last week's press conference. “He is healthy, more healthy than he has been in recent years....Also, I think he's a different, athletic matchup for right tackles.”

Others will be paying attention as well. Worilds could playing himself into a contract worth tens of millions. That's an amount the Steelers could find difficult to match, thus the consideration to designate him as their franchise player, an amount that could cost approximately $9 million, and then work on extending that into a long-term deal.

So, between Woodley and Worilds, head coach Mike Tomlin, GM Kevin Colbert and Director of Football & Business Administration (and resident Cap guru) Omar Khan have quite the decisions to make.

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TIDBITS: To fill the roster spot vacated by Woodley, the team signed linebacker Jamaal Westerman who was released by the Buffalo Bills last week. He was originally an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers in 2009. Signed by the New York Jets, he has also spent time with the Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts. He has appeared in 21 games over the past two seasons and has recorded 1.5 sacks. He just fills a roster spot and purely provides depth behind Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds.

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LB Kion Wilson, who was released from the Steelers' active roster on Saturday, has cleared waivers and was signed back to their practice squad.