LaMarr Woodley's release was inevitable

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
3:20
PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- LaMarr Woodley's Pittsburgh Steelers career will officially end with a thud Tuesday when the organization sweeps up after one of its bigger mistakes in recent memory.

The release of Woodley, the highest-paid defensive player in franchise history, means the Steelers are all-in on outside linebacker Jason Worilds.

It also caps a rather stunning turn of events at one of the glamour positions on the Steelers’ defense.

Worilds, who signed a one-year, $9.54 million contract last week and is in line to parlay an eight-sack season into a lucrative long-term deal with the Steelers, lost his starting job to a rookie after the first game of 2013.

His days in Pittsburgh appeared to be numbered, but Worilds reclaimed his starting job at right outside linebacker after Jarvis Jones struggled. Worilds blossomed when a nagging calf injury sidelined Woodley and provided an opening at left outside linebacker.

Seven of Worilds’ sacks came in his final eight games, and he played so well at left outside linebacker that Woodley moved to the right side for the two games in which he played after returning from yet another soft-tissue injury.

Worilds’ rise coincided with Woodley’s fall from grace and the trust from the organization that went down with him.

Make no mistake, Woodley’s impending release is as much about what he didn’t do as it is about Worilds' emergence after he got an opportunity to start on a regular basis.

The Steelers went all-in on Woodley in August 2011 when they signed him to a six-year, $61.5 million contract, and he initially justified their enormous faith in him.

Woodley dominated the month of October like no other pass-rusher, recording 7.5 sacks during a four-game tear. But he injured his hamstring while chasing Tom Brady at the end of the month and hasn’t been the same since.

Woodley missed 14 out of 49 games following that injury. In the 35 games that he did play, Woodley managed just 9.5 sacks, compared to 50.5 sacks in 68 games, including the postseason, prior to the injury.

That kind of return proved to be unacceptable for a team that relies so heavily on its outside linebackers to get after the quarterback.

Woodley’s weight -- listed at 265 pounds but probably playing between 280 and 290 later in his career -- likely contributed to the injuries that plagued him since 2011. One anonymous teammate ripped his work ethic last year in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story.

Woodley turns 30 in November, and the Steelers clearly felt he was on the downside of his career, as well as a player they couldn’t count on staying healthy.

The post-June 1 release of Woodley clears around $8 million in salary-cap space this year and puts them in excess of $11 million under the cap. It also allows them to spread Woodley’s dead money ($14.17 million) over the next two years; another anticipated spike in the salary cap next year will help soften that financial blow.

Just as significant as the financial benefits the Steelers reap by cutting ties with the seventh-year veteran: They can now clean up the mistake they made when they valued Woodley as one of the premier pass-rushers in the NFL.

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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