The Steelers seem to have a continuous supply of talented outside linebackers in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 scheme, but while depth is a good thing, the restrictions of the salary cap force difficult personnel decisions. Perhaps the most important one facing the Steelers is what to do about left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who had a down season, finished on IR (calf) and carries a $13.59MM cap hit in 2014.
As it stands, the Steelers are approximately $10MM over the salary cap and facing the potential defensive losses of key UFAs Brett Keisel, Evander Hood and Jason Worilds, who is coming off a long-awaited breakout season. Stepping in for the injured Woodley, Worilds got 11 starts and registered 63 tackles and a team-high eight sacks. With young pass rushers in high demand, he is set to cash in on the open market, be it in Pittsburgh or elsewhere.
Recently, team president Art Rooney II expressed his desire to retain Worilds, who told ESPN’s Scott Brown he has no interest in returning to Pittsburgh as a backup. That seems to render Woodley’s status as tenuous for two reasons. As it stands, the team has very little wiggle room financially (approximately $10MM over the cap). Additionally, conventional wisdom suggests 2013 first-rounder Jarvis Jones, whose arrow LeBeau believes is pointing up, will start at right outside linebacker next season.
Ostensibly, the club’s decision comes down to Worilds or Woodley, but in December, SI.com’s Chris Burke wrote why the Worilds-Woodley decision isn’t so cut-and-dried, explaining that Woodley has already restructured his six-year, $61.5MM deal ($17MM guaranteed) once before, resulting in him being owed more than $25MM in base salary the next three seasons. What’s more, if Woodley is cut before June 1, the team incurs a dead-money cap hit of $14.2MM, meaning it cannot simply dump Woodley to make room for Worilds, who will be snapped up in free agency in March.
Aside from begging Woodley to accept another restructuring, the most realistic scenario might be waiting until after June 1 to release Woodley, enabling the team to spread the cap hit over two seasons. Regardless the outcome, the Steelers will have to get creative in order to create financial flexibility in 2014 and beyond, and that undoubtedly means severing ties with established veterans.