The Pittsburgh Steelers have informed linebacker LaMarr Woodley that he is going to be released, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. The team won't make the move official until Tuesday when the new league year begins, however. This is because the Steelers plan to designate Woodley a June 1 cut, Rapoport says.
Woodley was slated to make $8 million in base salary in 2014, with a cap hit of over $13 million. Releasing him without designating him a June 1 cut would incur a sizable portion of dead money, to the tune of over $14 million. Designating him a June 1 cut, however, only puts the Steelers on the hook for his 2014 portion of his pending bonuses, pushing the rest into the 2015 cap.
This release was expected to an extent, but a year ago this kind of move would have seemed crazy. Woodley signed a six-year, $61.5 million contract with $17 million guaranteed back in 2011, but since signing said contract, he's missed a total of 14 games due to injuries. The prolific pass rusher combined for 35 sacks from 2008-10, and even with his injuries put up 18 sacks over the past three seasons.
His place in Steelers history won't be forgotten any time soon. Neal Coolong of Behind The Steel Curtain writes:
Woodley ranks fifth on the team's all-time sack list, and was off to one of the best starts for his position in team history. After the Steelers selected him in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft, Woodley assumed a starting position in 2008 and became the first player in NFL history to record 1.5 sacks or more in four consecutive playoff games, helping the Steelers claim their sixth Super Bowl championship in franchise history.
If the Steelers didn't have another option at the position, they might have held onto Woodley in hopes that he'd be able to get over his recent injury trend. But the team now has Jason Worilds, who took over for Woodley at the left outside linebacker position during the seven-year veteran's stint on the injury report. Worilds had a career year, and when Woodley returned, he switched over to the right side.
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Worilds was recently designated as Pittsburgh's transition player. That guarantees him $9.754 million this season, unless he signs a long-term deal, something the Steelers would like to get done sooner rather than later. Pittsburgh only recently became cap compliant for 2014, and getting a deal done is slow-going. The second-round pick out of Virginia Tech has 18 sacks and three forced fumbles, with eight of those sacks coming last season.
Woodley now becomes a free agent and fortunately for him, there should be plenty of teams interested in his services. Injuries aside, he's one of the better pass rushers in the league and has always had a solid all-around game. The few contracts we've seen thus far have indicated that teams are taking advantage of the extra salary cap space provided this season. Woodley could benefit from that if teams aren't worried about his health.