Has Kevin Colbert’s Offseason Plan Been The Same Plan All Along?

The recent move by the Pittsburgh Steelers to transition tag linebacker Jason Worilds caught several people by surprise and you have to wonder if that move had been planned for several weeks, or if the offseason plan that general manager Kevin Colbert initially formulated was adjusted on the fly due to huge and seemingly unexpected increase of the 2014 salary cap number.

A little more than a year ago, the 2013 salary cap number of $123 million was announced and not soon after, the speculation started to mount that the 2014 number would be flat and maybe only slightly increase. As the year wore on, those projections remained pretty much unchanged until the middle of December when reports surfaced that the 2014 number could come in at around $126.3 million. Since December, it seemed like every few weeks the projected number increased by a few million until it was officially announced last week that the 2014 number would be a whopping $133 million, a $10 million increase over the previous year.

Just prior to the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, and even during it, Colbert and Steelers team president Art Rooney II were both asked about the circulating rumors that the 2014 cap number could come in much higher than the original projections a year ago, and both didn’t want to give them much credence. Both said they already had a plan in place that would ensure they would be well within compliance with the cap and Colbert went as far to say it was “doubtful” the team would use a tag of any kind on any of their soon-to-be unrestricted free agents.

If indeed both were telling the truth, you would have to think the plan in place included letting Worilds test free agency if they couldn’t get him signed to a long-term deal prior to the start of the new league year. In addition, the plan for all terminations, restructures and pre summer extensions also would have needed to have been completely mapped out a few weeks ago.

When asked just prior to the combine about the possibility of retaining both Worilds and fellow outside LaMarr Woodley for the 2014 season, Colbert boldly stated it was a feasible option. However, he did express his concerns about Woodley’s injury history in addition being as he has missed 14 games with various injuries since 2011. Was Colbert’s response about possibly being able to keep both linebackers just lip service to pacify the media, the fans and both linebackers? It’s very possible.

Assuming the Steelers have stuck mainly to their offseason plan for several weeks now, do you think the decision to transition tag Worilds was made over the course of the last week, because of the $10 million increase in the salary cap over last year? It’s kind of funny how that $10 million barely covered the $9.754 million tag price. It’s too bad we’ll likely never know the answer to that question, but what if the decision to make that move was in the plans only if the cap number came in higher than projected? That same plan would have likely had to include the possibility of keeping Woodley as well, right?

It takes time to get restructures and extensions laid out and ready to execute, and while many of you might think otherwise, Colbert and company don’t fly by the seat of their pants. The offseason puzzle, as Rooney pointed out during an interview at the combine, has pieces that can change from one day to the next and because of that, he said the team always needs to keep their eyes and options open. In other words, even well laid out plans might need some adjusting.

So what am I trying to allude to, here? While the general consensus seems to be that Woodley will be dumped now that Worilds is back in the fold, I am kind of wondering now if the Steelers might very well have plans to the contrary and especially if they are able to work out an extension with their recently tagged linebacker fairly quickly.

As I pointed out earlier this morning, dumping Woodley would leave the Steelers with a second-year linebacker on one side that registered all of one sack during his rookie season and another linebacker on the other side that really only has a stretch of 10 good games to hang his helmet on since he was drafted. Should Woodley be jettisoned, both of those players would be backed up by a fourth-year linebacker in Chris Carter, who has shown virtually nothing in his limited playing time since being drafted. Are you comfortably with that? Is Colbert?

When you really think about it, outside of giving Woodley a courtesy release prior to June 1st, what do the Steelers really gain by releasing him prior to then? Sure, they’d wipe out the $8.58 million dead money charge in 2015 by doing the deed now as opposed to later in the summer, but what if Worilds or Jones were to fall down a flight a stairs and tear up a knee before then? I know that’s extreme and over the top, and I also know that those kind of things could just as easily happen on June 2nd as well, but I think you get my point.

At the very least, the Steelers should keep Woodley under contract until after the draft, which takes place nearly a full month before the June 1st line in the sand. It would also give them an opportunity to see how dedicated he was to his offseason program. Colbert sent him a message through the media a few weeks ago, so let’s see if he got it. Keeping him until then will not affect what the Steelers do or don’t do during free agency one bit, unless, of course, he takes a pay cut.

The Steelers might very well wind up cutting Woodley at some point before June 1st, but if they ultimately decide to keep him, you can bet that Colbert will say that was the plan all along. He will also remind us that he said back February that keeping both Woodley and Worilds was a feasible option.

  • Callentown

    Couldn’t agree more. I think the door is open for Woodley to stay, depending on the shape he’s in and the draft. Colbert’s comment was for motivation.

    The money and cap is already spoken for. Might as well have the player too for 2014.

  • steeltown

    This is a very interesting situation.. one of the most interesting offseasons in recent history.. I think one of the main deciding factors will be Free Agency.. If they can sign a veteran FA at the OLB position to prvide quality depth it would greatly help with the transition and/or release of Woodley.

    Then of course also target a mid-Rd OLB prospect, like the Barret kid from Colorado St

  • Paddy

    They are in a pickle but the lid is ajar

  • westcoasteeler

    You’re correct. But we still need him to take a paycut. His history speaks for itself. I want him to get hungry again. He’s been half assing it due to injury. Any time I pull a hammy, it’s because I didn’t stretch. How are we gonna keep him? Move his pay to incentives, like Dave said in a previous article.

  • mlc43

    I’ve been a little surprised by this off season thus far. There was an unexpected increase that we immediately used to sign one player. I’m happy to have Worilds retained but this puts us right back where we were without the cap increase. When I initially heard of the increase I was excited because I saw this as an unexpected chance for the Steelers to rebuild the defense. Unless they are able to sign Worilds to a long term, more cap friendly contract, I don’t see any significant changes coming this off season. I hope that Worilds does get a new contract and we can address some more needs…just worried again.

  • chris ward

    Hope Woodley takes a pay cut, don’t feel comfortable with Chris Carter as a back up.

  • cencalsteeler

    By signing Worilds, the Steelers basically now have the upper hand with Woodley. I’d approach him with a reduced salary that’s incentive based. If he balks, be aggressive in FA and land Barret in the draft (since bringing in Porter, all signs point to drafting Barret IMO). If they plan on drafting Barret, the Steelers only need a serviceable olb for a year or two till he’s ready.

  • Axe Skot

    I won’t be shocked if they keep Woodley, as I think it is the best option for both sides. Having said that, if you believe what some in the local media have reported, Woodley has a high opinion of himself and his value, so a paycut seems extremely problematic. Hopefully it won’t be a battle of egos like it seemed with Harrison and Woodley will be open to negotiations. Still, I couldn’t blame Woodley if he said no to a paycut.

  • Callentown

    A pay cut would be ideal for sure. I don’t know if he’s in a position to where he has to adjust his salary.

    At the same time, I think the motivation is that his perceived value is lower than it has been in some time. It’s in his best interest to get hungry and show up in shape.

    If I’m Woodley, I’m hoping the Steelers keep me for 2014 so I can show them and the rest of the league I can stay healthy and be a force again. So maybe that’s where the deal happens.

    If he does, he could have a sick year for us!

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Steelers said they were going to go as if there was no increase till it was actually written in stone so my thought was Colbert said there wasnt going to be any tags on guys before the cap increase because it was business as if no increase but when the increase came then it changed how they looked at what they were doing.

  • cp72

    You know it kind of cracks me up when I hear the national media talk about how dire the Steelers cap situation is.

    For easy math purposes let’s say we are 12 million over (it’s actually 11.8 without Will Allen). I will also round off a few numbers.

    Release Levi Brown..now 5.7 million over

    Sign Worilds to a long term deal first year cap hit of 3.5 million…now 700k under

    Restructure AB, Timmons, and Heath (already done guessing a 2 million savings) total savings for all three 10 million…now 10.7 million under.

    Ike at a reduced number for sake of argument say it’s a 4 million savings…now it’s 14.7 million under

    You could do something with Troy and Ben and go further. When you look at that we don’t cut anyone on the current roster and get to almost 15 million undrr

  • RMSteeler

    Don’t think the Transition Tag was planned months ago. Believe it was the cap increase that triggered that option. Good move by the Steelers, it appears so far.

  • Virdin Barzey

    Giant Elephant in the Room:

    Woodley counts $13,590,000 against their salary cap right now, including an $8 million salary.

    If this guy won’t take a cut, bring back J.Harrison if you need to.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    I gave you an upvote, but I do think Worlds and the Steelers will get a deal together so that this year’s cap hit can be reduced.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Excellent point, but these extensions are what got them in this situation in the first place.

  • sean mcmartin

    Time to see the results of his conditioning this off season, If he shows up and its obvious he has not put in the effort. he should be released. It’s up to woodley to be the best at his craft.

  • Milliken Steeler

    James Harrison? No offense Virdin, but he was a shadow of his former self for the Bengals and now another year just went by.

  • westcoasteeler

    We are all hoping for that sick season, for sure! Unfortunately, that was supposed to be last year.