While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Should the Steelers kick the tires on LaMarr Woodley?
After three straight seasons of battling injuries of a chronic nature, the Steelers had little choice but to let veteran LaMarr Woodley go last offseason. He simply could no longer be counted upon to play 1000 or so snaps on defense, or to do so at a high level by avoiding playing with injuries.
The Raiders were the first team willing to take the gamble on him, signing him to a two-year contract, of which he will only have played one, after it was leaked that Oakland intends to release him after he suffered yet another season-ending injury six years into the 2014, making the switch from outside linebacker to defensive end.
He now finds himself in a position similar to players such as Darrius Heyward-Bey and Hakeem Nicks, along with many others in recent years, who have had a prior body of work, but whose recent performances or health have cast doubt on whether or not they can regain that form.
Chances seem strong that Woodley will have to settle for quite a modest contract if he wants to play this season, perhaps even a veteran-minimum deal in the hopes of proving himself for another payday in 2016.
Could that ‘prove it’ contract send him back to Pittsburgh, where he excelled early in his career and help pilot the defense to the organization’s record sixth Lombardi Trophy? Don’t count on it.
We saw last offseason just how hesitant the Steeler were to re-sign James Harrison. It took a catastrophic in-season injury on a roster that already only had three outside linebacker for the front office to come calling, in spite of his vague public pleas prior to his short-lived retirement.
The Steelers are turning the page on the old defense with Dick LeBeau. The only formerly established player I might anticipate returning is Brett Keisel due to the depth crisis at defensive end, and that is only if he checks out medically.
Even with the idea of Woodley returning in a limited, rotational role, on a minimum salary, I still find it unlikely that the Steelers would look back once more here. It seems that last year’s struggles were a tipping point for the defense with a no turning back attitude, even if he could potentially help Pittsburgh get through the 2015 season.