There was a lot of buzz around Lamarr Woodley last season. Woodley had just endured another injury-riddled season after signing a hefty six-year contract in 2011. His production had declined to the point where fans were wondering if he was worth the money or simply dead weight.
It wasn’t just his production or contract that was swirling around Woodley. Suddenly, his work ethic was called out by an anonymous player. Add all of those variables together, and you have the making of a player who turned from a fan favorite to a hot button topic among the fanbase.
Don’t think for a second that the Pittsburgh Steelers organization hasn’t noticed either. When you give someone a six-year, $61.5 million contract with $22.5 million guaranteed, you expect production.
This contract was coming off Woodley’s trio of monster seasons starting in 2008. From 2008-2011, he never had a season with less than 10 sacks. Even in 2012, he was credited with nine, but a lot has changed since then. Maybe the most important is that James Harrison is no longer on the team and on the other side to take pressure off of Woodley. Simply put, he has looked like a shell of himself recently.
In the offseason, Woodley declared that he would silence the critics — that he wasn’t going to talk the talk, but simply walk the walk. He showed up at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA for training camp in phenomenal shape, but that is all smoke and mirrors. Woodley’s season started off on the right note. In the first six games of this 2013 season, Woodley garnered five sacks. The only problem? That is when the production stopped and the injuries started.
A nagging calf injury has kept Woodley off the field for the past three games, and backup outside linebacker Jason Worilds has filled in nicely. Worilds has been pressuring the quarterback, collapsing the pocket and making a name for himself in Woodley’s absence — all with a rookie in Jarvis Jones on the other side that hasn’t even breathed on a quarterback all season, let alone take pressure off of Worilds.
Worilds has four sacks in his last four games and is already tied for the team lead with Woodley at five. Not surprisingly, some people are clamoring for Woodley to be released at season’s end.
Some might see this as blasphemy and a knee-jerk reaction to a player that has simply suffered unfortunate injuries the past few seasons, but if you look at the logistics, you will see the fact that Woodley could be playing for his career with the Steelers.
One of the biggest reasons for Woodley possibly being traded or released isn’t just his lack of production, but his lack of production on top of a contract that is weighing down the salary cap-strapped Steelers. Woodley is getting $10 million this season after the restructuring his contract, and $5.4 million was given to him via a signing bonus. Next season, Woodley is due $8 million, followed by $8.5 million and $9 million is the final year of his current contract.
That is a lot of money to spend on a linebacker that simply hasn’t played up to snuff since 2010. This offseason, the Steelers will have a lot of tough decisions to make, and Woodley is one of those tough decisions. These last four games, Woodley will have to prove that he is worth his contract. If he doesn’t, there is a chance this might be his last year in the black and gold.
Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for RantSports.com and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz