According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Pittsburgh Steelers will release outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley tomorrow at the beginning of the new league year, designating him a post-June 1 release.
The Steelers, of course, have no need to release him now, because the cap savings they will reap from his release will not kick in until June. Doing so now is purely a personal courtesy to the veteran linebacker in order to give him a chance to catch on with a team early, and it would not be surprising to see him signed quickly.
This move is by no means surprising, and has long been anticipated in the event that the Steelers re-sign Jason Worilds. They applied the transition tag to him, which he has already accepted, and they are now looking toward working out a long-term deal with their new starting left outside linebacker.
Woodley has an $8 million base salary scheduled for the 2014 season, and that is the amount of cap relief the Steelers will gain come June, minus displacement costs. That money will be deferred to the 2015 cap hit as dead money.
Woodley’s 2015 cap hit was scheduled to be $14,090,000. With the release, it will decrease by $5,510,000 to just $8,580,000. So even though it adds dead money to next year, it still reduces next year’s cap hit overall.
The decision to release Woodley was assuredly the result of the discrepancy between his pay and what he was able to produce on the field due to his health. After signing a lucrative six-year contract in 2011, the veteran pass rusher has been riddled with lower body soft tissue injuries to his hamstrings and calf muscles.
Up until the middle of the 2011 season, Woodley seemed to be on pace for a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season, registering seven and a half sacks in the four games leading up to his injury. He finished that season with nine total sacks, none coming after the injury, as he played in only parts of two games after that.
Woodley continued to struggle during the 2012 season, missing another three games due to injury and clearly having been affected and reduced by the injuries, registering just four sacks on the year.
He got off to a good start last season, however, and appeared to be rounding back into form during the first half of the season while the rest of the team was languishing. He registered a sack in five of the first six games, but none after.
After injuring his calf in Week 11, Woodley was sidelined for three games before coming back—this time on the right side—against the Miami Dolphins and playing well despite not registering a sack, but he strained his other calf on the second snap of the very next game, and the Steelers elected to put him on injured reserve.
Despite his injury concerns, there should be quite a healthy market for Woodley’s services. He continues to play very well when healthy, both against the pass and the run.
Pro Football Focus lists him as fourth on the pass rushing productivity chart for 3-4 outside linebackers last season with a rating of 14.8, registering 37 total pressures on 196 pass rushes. Jerry Hughes paced the position at 15.4.
A team can never have too many pass rushers, and that is only becoming increasingly true as the league evolves. With Woodley scheduled to be released, quality depth at outside linebacker becomes an imminent concern with just Chris Carter and Terence Garvin having received playing time there, not including starting inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Stevenson Sylvester, a free agent, also saw some time there at the end of the season.