Ater suffering yet another calf injury earlier this week, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley was placed on injured reserve. Woodley started the 2013 NFL season pretty strong with five sacks in the first six games, but declined in his pass rushing after that.
After sustaining the injury to his right calf, the Steelers inserted Jason Worilds in Woodley’s place on the left side of the defense. Once Woodley returned to the lineup in Week 14, Pittsburgh decided to leave Worilds on the left side and put Woodley on the right. The seven-year veteran aggravated the injury the following week.
This now gives an opportunity for rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones to start in Woodley’s place for the remainder of the season.
With Woodley now on IR, what does the future hold for him and the Steelers’ defense? There is the possibility that the organization will release Woodley, who is under contract through 2016, and re-sign Worilds, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. However, whether Pittsburgh decides to release or keep Woodley, they will take significant hits on their salary cap.
If the Steelers release Woodley before June 1, approximately $14 million will be counted against Pittsburgh’s salary cap for 2014. If the organization cuts ties with him after June 1, they could defer $8.6 million to their 2015 salary cap, but $13.6 million of Woodley’s contract would count against them up until that time.
Looking outside of the dollar signs, the Steelers have been labeled as having the oldest defense in the league. A number of their starters are on the wrong side of the age of 30. Keeping a player in Woodley, who has been marred by injuries over the past three seasons and who will be 30 in November, does nothing for adding youth to this defensive unit.
The Steelers obviously needs to get younger on the defensive side of the ball, and keeping Worilds, who will be 26 at the start of next season, will be taking a step in that direction. Since moving to the left side, Worilds has played exceptionally well, and currently leads the team in sacks with seven.
Woodley has put up big sack numbers while in the Steel City, but what good will he be since he can’t stay off the injury list? Keeping him would be a huge liability and would take up a much-needed roster spot.
Overall, the Steelers are going to take a hit monetarily in some way, shape or form, regardless of what they decide to do with Woodley. I believe that it all comes down to decreasing the average age of the defense so that they can flourish as a unit for an extended period of time. In other words, re-sign Worilds and let Woodley go.
Clyde A. Speller is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClydeASpeller.