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With Woodley, Question The Restructures, Not The Original Contract


Now that Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley is out for the season with yet another calf injury, it’s funny to watch all of the Monday morning quarterbacks come out and say that they knew it was a bad idea to give him a six-year, $61.5 million contract prior to the 2011 season. If you are one of those people, you probably don’t have a very good memory and you probably don’t have a good understanding of the salary cap and market value.

Following the 2010 season, Woodley was an unrestricted free agent and he had already registered 39 sacks in 60 games played and 47 games started. In order to prevent him from hitting free agency and leaving to the highest bidder, the Steelers were forced to place the franchise tag on him, which at that time was $10.091 million. At that point, the Steelers had to get a long-term deal with him. His six-year deal included a very fair $13 million signing bonus and roster bonuses in the first two years of the deal that totaled $9.5 million. The average yearly value worked out to be $10.25 million with $22.5 million of the deal guaranteed.

In 2011, Woodley looked every bit of the player they paid before suffering a hamstring injury during the Week 8 game against the New England Patriots. At the time of his injury, he had nine sacks, 39 total tackles and one interception. If you extrapolate that out, he was on course to have 18 sacks, 78 total tackles and two interceptions.

Now, if you want to point a finger at the mess the Steelers are in right now with Woodley and his contract, point it at the front office for restructuring each of the two last offseasons. Prior to the start of the 2012 season, the Steelers turned $2.7 million of Woodley’s $3.4 million base salary, along with the $5.5 million roster bonus that he was scheduled to earn, into a signing bonus and that was prorated out over the five remaining years of his deal. If you are scoring at home, that breaks down to a $1.64 million charge in each of the years.

In the first three games of the 2012 season, Woodley had two sacks and nine total tackles in the first three games before suffering another hamstring injury early in the fourth game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He of course wasn’t the same player once he got back on the field and went on to suffer an ankle injury in Week 12 which made things worse.

Fast forward now to this past offseason and the Steelers again restructured Woodley’s contract. This time they turned $5.4 million of his $9 million base salary into a signing bonus and prorated it out over the course of the remaining four years of the contract. That breaks down to another $1.35 million in each remaining year and goes on top of the other $1.64 million from the 2012 restructure and the original proration of the initial signing bonus.

Had the Steelers not restructured the contract of Woodley in 2012 and 2013, the cost of making him a June 1st cap casualty this coming offseason would have only been $2.6 million dead money charge in 2014 with another $2.6 million worth of dead money due in 2015. Now, because of those two restructures, Woodley will have a dead money charge of $5.59 million in 2014 and another $8.58 million in 2015, if deemed a June 1st cap casualty this offseason.

So you see, the problem was not giving Woodley the contract, as up until that point he was producing and not injury prone. The deal was fair market value based on production for both sides and he earned it. Sure, if they had a crystal ball to see into the future, he never would have been given it. The Steelers took a risk in restructuring said contract not once, but twice and those risk failed. If you are going to second guess anything after the fact, it should be those risk.

Woodley’s commitment to his offseason training program will of course be questioned once again, but in reality, we really don’t know how hard he does or doesn’t train. The “anonymous” player quotes from last offseason will of course be rehashed and he will take plenty of abuse from the fan base.

Maybe he will be gone. We’ll just have to wait and see. As for right now, at least you know exactly how it got to this point as far as his contract goes.

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About Dave Bryan

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • mlc43

    Good article and absolutely correct. Any of us would have given him that contract originally. He was in full fledged beast mode. There are some of us, though, that have been saying that all the restructuring was going to eventually bite us. I wasn’t one of them, lol. Now that we are in this situation it’s really hard to see the proper way out. Honestly, I would love to be able to just cut him, but his dead money makes that hard to do. I think we’re going to have to think about letting some other people go that we could have maybe held on to for another year. Someone like TP. Ike is definitely going to have to take a huge pay cut or be gone as well. Also, it would be nice to see what can be done with Ben and a new contract. I’m no salary cap expert but this is my opinion.

  • CrazyTerry

    Exactly my point in a prior article’s comment on this blog. Colbert really messed up with some of the restructuring. The worst was Ike’s this year. Really? did you not see enough of Ike this year to know not trading him last year was a mistake?

  • JAMESH

    Thanks for the history lesson, Dave. We needed that.

  • srdan

    I am no cap guru, but I’d have to believe that they weigh risk vs. reward. The last two years the steelers arguably had hte worst cap situation i the league. We had to get some reconstructions done to have the people on the roster that we believed were needed. This was an easy way to free up money to allow for signings like velasco, sanders, mclendon, gay…All contributors. I don’t understand which contracts can be reconstructed and are worth it, but you’d have to think that they weighed their options and deemed this the best one. And maybe it was eating hte least rotten fruit.

  • srdan

    One more thing…he was very effective with casey hampton, aaron smith, and joey/james on the other side wreaking havoc. When it came time for him to be one of the players to get double teamed and still makes plays, and help others shine, I never saw it. Another MMQB comment.

  • Jollyrob68

    I don’t question the contract he earned it, I do question the constant restructuring.My hope is that they ask Woodley to reduce & modify his contract first. Then attempt to trade him before making him a post June 1st cut. They need to sign Jason Worilds.

  • Jollyrob68

    When can they trade him? Do they have to wait until the start of the new calendar year?

  • Crazy Bone

    The problem is that the organization and the fan base won’t accept a really bad season (which is what the team needs). Guys like Taylor, Troy and Clark should have been released. That would have freed up money to keep guys like Lewis and Worilds. I don’t care if they go 4-12. At least the salary cap would be in better shape and the team would be drafing from a better position. I hope the Steelers lose their last two games so they can actually draft high enough to get a LT. The team doesn’t use FA to get better so they have to hit on their draft picks.

    In the 90’s the Steeelers let great players like Lake and Woodson leave because they were in their 30’s and too old. The same should have been done with their high priced 30 somethings.

  • Rick M

    An excellent article. Thank you! Hopefully the FO has finally learned – who knows given the restructure of Woodley and Taylor only last year – that they have to do a much better job at age/risk/reward analysis.

    Yes, they also have to do a better job drafting. But they just can’t keep mortgaging the team’s future. The Steelers will currently will be paying 7 players over 67% of the payroll in 2014 – only one other team is over 60% for their top 7 players next year (Dallas at just over 63%). Salary cap management means more than just restructure after restructure. Evaluation and smart, sometimes difficult, decisions are also required.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Trading Woodley will be pretty difficult. Any team that trades for him will have to take on that big contract. Maybe asking him to take a pay cut might work but in the end I think he get’s released. I agree with you they gotta find a way to sign Worilds.

  • ATL96STEELER

    At the time of the contract I thought is was great to lock up both Woodley and Timmons…we can debate until the cows come home about the restructures, but the FO really had no choice. Ben’s contract had already been restructured more than once, Timmons and Woodley were the obvious choices.

    Crazy Bone said it best…after the GB loss in the SB, they should’ve started letting players (good players at the time) go and start the rebuilding process then…but Colbert and the FO choose to make one more run and here we are.

    I don’t like losing either, but at the same time I’m happy those great Steelers got paid on the way out. They brought 2 more titles to PIT…I can deal with the fallout…draft, draft, draft is the only way out of this now.

  • CrazyTerry

    I don’t see the problem with sucking up the dead money. At some point, you have to suck it up. You do know that 2015 will have more cap space because of this. So you can structure other players existing or brand new contracts in such a way to push more money into 2015 which will have more cap space. This fretting over dead money is misplaced. The money is sunk . Move on. If some team feels Woodley is worth the base salaries he is owed, and the Steelers do not, then Steelers will make a trade. If neither other teams nor the steelers feel Woodley isworth the remaining base salaries, he will be cut and then sign with a team that offers him the best of something. If Steelers value him over what other teams do, then they will offer a renegotiated lower value contract after they cut him. It’s that simple. But you do not keep him just because of the dead ,money.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Agree…OAK carried a reported $49 mil in dead money this year trying to clean up bad contracts…and they still found a way to beat PIT. FWIW…I think Woodley’s days of being a 3-4 OLB are over…he seems better suited to play a DE in a 4-3 now.

  • Dan

    Amen. Dead money is a sin of the past that we don’t have to repeat going forward (but I’m sure we will). But at any given point sunk money is already sunk. You can’t unsink it by keeping a player. We’ve already paid him much of his 2014-2016 salaries in advance and that money is gone no matter what. So the real question is, is he worth the scheduled base salary next year? Debatable. Ideally he would renegotiate and reduce his base, but there’s really not much motivation for him to do that. He’s not cashing any new money from the Steelers other than base, so why take a base cut, instead of forcing the team to you cut you so you can be a FA and get a new deal. Even at less money from a new team he could still command a decent contract with new signing bonuses.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    I agree with the article specifically as it relates to Woodley.

    My complaint with management is regarding the overall cap management. The Woodley contract was given post-lockout when it was known the collective bargaining agreement was going to squeeze the cap. Because Woodley was a franchised free agent, his contract makes sense at the time the contract, but the decision to give that contract needed to be backed up with difficult decisions elsewhere.

    The problem is they gave Colon a new contract then Timmons and Polamalu extensions at the same time. Even if those were good market level deals, together those 4 deals in 2011 form the base of the deteriorating cap situation which is now making it more difficult to retain the young talent the team develops. The fact is they couldn’t have everyone and it now leads to a situation where retaining or acquiring anyone is very difficult.

  • JohnnyV1

    To do the same thing, over and over again, expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Having Woodley on the team in 2014, thinking he’ll be the player he was prior to signing the big contract, and actually have a salary commensurate with his performance, is insane.

    People questioning giving Woodley the contract, or others now writing to tell us how to view things, is meaningless discussion of the past.

  • mlc43

    Don’t participate then. It’s a message board, isn’t it? Don’t people tend to discuss things on them? Cheer up, it will get better.

  • JohnnyV1

    Precisely, it is a message board. My message was just noting that the history of this one particular topic has been combed over, quite a few times, and perhaps discussing the future possibilities. And thank you for the well wishes! Have a happy holiday!

  • mlc43

    Merry Christmas!

  • walter mason

    Jollyrob, I would think reducing/modifying or a pay cut on his contract will not and can not possibly help because he has already been paid in advance with restructuring. . I would say there is zero chance of him returning any money. Thats why its called dead money. We can cut him but we already paid him for future years.

  • HopalongCassidy

    If your 2014 salary schedule is correct as far as Woodley goes, his base salary is 8 mil and his cap hit is $13,590,000.00. So, if he is a June 1st cut, there would be $5.590,000.00 dead money. Is that correct ? If that is correct, the Steelers still save the 8 mil in base salary albeit after June 1st if they cut him. I think you can always use that money later.If this year is any indication, some players will get injured and you’ll need to be able to sign replacements without having to restructure other contracts to do it or did I miss something ?

  • 2443scott

    unless he finds away to correct his leg problems he cant be a every down lber if steelers cant let him go because of the money or cant trade him then he has to become a back up and steelers will have to just eat all that money i have noticed the def line has become stronger and faster i cant say same for the def back field guys ….if i could talk into his ear i would fill it with troy see how he has been go get the number off his therapist who fixed his leg problems

  • Nick Williams

    The dead money is a non issue for me. It will be dead money either way because he is always hurt half of the year.

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