The Pittsburgh Steelers are not in a healthy place in terms of the NFL salary cap heading into the 2014 campaign. As they stand right now, they are $9.6 million over the salary cap heading into free agency. That says a lot about a team searching for answers to a lot of questions this offseason. With their cap situation as it is, it is now time that the Steelers face some tough decisions regarding their roster for the upcoming season.
You can certainly expect the Steelers to restructure contracts as they usually do to help get in compliance with the NFL’s salary cap standards, but there are more dire decisions to make — decisions in regards to players who have been mainstays on the team for the past several years. Some of the players who will need to be discussed are Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Brett Keisel to name a few, but none loom larger than outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
The question mark that hovers over Woodley isn’t simply his contract, what it would cost the team to cut him and whether or not he has anything left in the tank. No, this is also performance based. Woodley was effective in the first six weeks of the season as he registered five sacks, but again injuries plagued his season and when he did return he was on the opposite side of the field as Jason Worilds had cemented the left side of the defense in his stead.
A lack of performance then leads to questions of whether Woodley should be retained or given his walking papers. What most Steelers fans fail to realize is that it isn’t as simple as just tell Woodley that his services are no longer needed. No, it is much more complex than that. If the Steelers cut Woodley outright before June 1 he would be owed $14.7 million that would all count towards the 2014 salary cap. If the Steelers wait till after June 1 to release Woodley, the $14.7 million would be dispersed over two seasons and therefore make the cap hit less significant. Without getting into technicalities of contract stipulations, guarantees and other jargon it isn’t a good contract for the Steelers to simply dump.
However, what is the alternative? The Steelers could always keep Woodley and hope he performs better next season while staying healthy. They wouldn’t be throwing money away by doing so, but that would also mean Worilds would be playing somewhere else next season. They could put the franchise tag on Worilds and cut Woodley, but that would cost the team nearly $20 million towards next season’s salary cap. All of these factors just compound the simple fact that this decision has a huge impact on the Steelers as a team and franchise for the immediate future.
In my opinion, the Steelers will only release Woodley if they are able to come to a contract extension with Worilds. If they are able to sign him to a new contract and move the numbers around to fit their salary cap needs, they could possibly afford to release Woodley and ultimately eat the millions he is owed this season. If they are unable to sign Worilds to a contract, I don’t think the franchise tag is an option for the Steelers. They would then stick with Woodley and let Worilds test free agent waters.
It’s a tough decision and one that could play a huge role in the Steelers’ success in 2014, but it’s one that needs to be made carefully.