By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers have their work cut out for them coming off consecutive non-winning seasons. It takes elbow grease to get from 8-8 to a contender, as everybody knows, of course, but this offseason, the issue is more complicated than simply improving, due to some uncommon circumstances.
One of the major priorities the front office will be looking to address during the offseason has to be resolving the tangled web that is the outside linebackers depth chart. Not necessarily who goes where, but rather who stays.
Jarvis Jones, the Steelers’ first-round draft pick from last season, is obviously a part of their immediate plans for the 2014 season. As of right now it doesn’t particularly matter whether or not he is penciled in as a starter for opening day. As a matter of fact, that depends largely on what happens during the offseason.
Once projected as an either/or scenario during various stretches of the regular season, the front office is actually facing an and/or question with regards to LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds, who accounted for most of the starts—and sacks—for Pittsburgh during the 2013 season.
They can afford to keep both, though it would take some contract shuffling, which has been par for the course for the last few seasons. The question is whether keeping both is in the best interests of the team.
Muddling the situation is, of course, the fact that releasing Woodley outright would actually cost the Steelers more against the salary cap for 2014 than it would to keep him on the roster.
On the other hand, making him a post-June cut would save about $8 million on this season’s cap, but not only will it add millions to the 2015 cap figure, it would do nothing to help the Steelers until June.
In other words, it wouldn’t help at all to re-sign Worilds. It would purely be a kitty to sign their draft picks, practice squad players, and leave money left over for an in-season emergency fund.
Now, Woodley, when healthy, was able to play at a high level this season. The problem is that he battled injuries nearly half the season. Worilds, while generally staying healthy the past two seasons, also has a long injury history, and missed the season finale this past year.
It would be in the Steelers’ best interests to have all three for 2014. Jones didn’t look like he was ready to be an impactful pass rusher, though he did finish off the season on a high note in most areas. Utilizing all three in special packages could be a good weapon that they rarely had the opportunity to exploit in 2013.
But letting Worilds walk would give the Steelers some leeway to do other things with their roster this year. Alternatively, letting Woodley go outright would save $14 million on the 2015 salary cap and would give them a jump-start in finally getting ahead of the spending curve as they prepare to withstand a new premium-level quarterback contract. These are tough decisions to be made, and I don’t think there’s one right answer.
Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers Offseason Priorities – A Primer
Steelers Offseason Priorities – Finding An Offensive Line Coach