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.