After two straight seasons of equivalent wins and losses, it’s certainly no surprise that the front office of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been busier and more active than usual in their efforts to reshape a middling roster into a true competitor.
The past few months could be fairly described as a season of change amid the shifting fates of a franchise that had just been to the Super Bowl three times in the very recent past. It may well be that past success that has helped drag them down of late.
Of course, selecting late in the draft annually doesn’t help, nor do the big contracts going out to the players that helped you reach that success. But the true death knell has been an unwillingness to recognize when to let go.
The Steelers had hoped to hold together that championship core for a while longer, but the last two seasons have been the wake-up call necessary to introduce the wave of change that we’ve seen this offseason, designed to steer the organization back in the right direction.
One of the biggest, and most significant, decisions that the Steelers made this offseason was to part with longtime outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
For the better part of his seven seasons with the Steelers, Woodley was a fearsome pass rusher, once receiving a Pro Bowl nod and possessing the talent for more.
He had a particular penchant for placing the quarterback on the turf in the postseason, registering two sacks in each of his first four playoff games, including Super Bowl XLIII.
In fact, through the first half of the 2011 season, he seemed set on reaching new heights, playing at a Defensive Player of the Year caliber pace. But that was the precise moment that the issues that would eventually force his release began.
Coming off a shiny new contract, Woodley was a young player with a more or less clean bill of health, entering his prime. It seemed the perfect candidate to dump some money into just to keep him around for a while longer.
But he suffered a hamstring injury during the middle of that 2011 season, and that type of lower body soft tissue injury has plagued him since then. It led to him landing on injured reserve last season, missing five games in total.
The Steelers drafted Jarvis Jones in the first round, unsure of the future of Jason Worilds. Worilds is still here, and Woodley isn’t.
They simply couldn’t afford to continue paying him his contract—or more specifically the inflated cap figure—without assurances that he would be able to stay on the field and play at the necessary level.
By designating him a post-June 1st cut, the Steelers managed to save around $8 million on this year’s salary cap, although they will have to account for that next year.
For this year, however, it gave them the ability to spend every dollar in their coffers on free agents in March and April, knowing that they would have more than enough cap space coming in later for draftees, contract extensions, and emergency room.
In a very direct way, Woodley’s release was the facilitator of many of the positive changes that the Steelers were able to accomplish this offseason. It was a difficult decision to make, yet perhaps ultimately the right one, when weighing his potential against what they’ve accomplished in his place.