Steelers place Woodley on IR

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PITTSBURGH – LaMarr Woodley might have played his last game for the Steelers.

Pittsburgh placed Woodley on injured reserve Tuesday with a strained right calf muscle, suffered just two plays into Sunday’s 30-20 victory over Cincinnati. Ironically, Woodley was making just his second start in the past six weeks after missing three games with a strained left calf.

To replace Woodley on the roster, the Steelers signed five-year veteran linebacker Jamaal Westerman, who was released by Buffalo Dec. 10.

Woodley will finish this season having missed five games, bringing his total games missed in the past three seasons to 14. All of the injuries have been issues with his legs, something that has robbed the former Pro Bowl linebacker of his trademark power and explosiveness.

Woodley recorded 35 sacks from 2008 through 2010, playing in 47 of a possible 48 games.

The Steelers gave him a 6-year, $61.5-millon contract extension prior to the 2011 season, and he recorded nine sacks in the first eight games before suffering a severe hamstring injury while chasing Tom Brady during a 25-17 victory over New England at Heinz Field. Woodley played just two games the remainder of that season.

Woodley has just nine sacks in 26 games since suffering the hamstring injury, including five this season in 11 games. His 57 career sacks rank seventh on the team’s all-time list.

The Steelers renegotiated his contract following the 2011 season to create salary cap space, turning some of his base salary into signing bonus and thus pushing his future salaries higher.

Woodley, 29, counts $13.59 million against the Steelers salary cap in 2014 and $14.09 million in 2015 before dropping to $11.99 million in 2016.

The NFL salary cap is expected to rise from $123 million this season to between $126 and $127 million in 2014, meaning the Steelers, who currently have 41 players under contract next year at a cost of $134.98 million, must again ask some players for salary reductions or release some veterans to get under the cap in 2014.

Pittsburgh released linebacker James Harrison and offensive linemen Willie Colon following the 2012 season in similar moves.

Given Woodley’s injury history, the Steelers could ask him to take a pay cut or be released in the offseason. Pittsburgh would likely have to designate Woodley’s release for after June 1 – as it did with Colon – to allow the team to split his remaining bonus money over the next two seasons, rather than taking the entire salary cap hit in 2014.

If the Steelers simply release Woodley at season’s end, he would count $14.17 million against the 2014 salary cap. By designating the move for after June 1, the Steelers could defer $8.6 million of his cap hit to 2015, but they would need to carry his 2013 salary on their cap until his release.

That could leave the Steelers in a difficult spot negotiating with their own free agents, including linebacker Jason Worilds, prior to June 1.

Worilds has emerged as Pittsburgh’s best pass rusher. He leads the Steelers with seven sacks this season, and Pittsburgh kept Worilds at left outside linebacker after Woodley returned from his injured right calf two weeks ago, rotating Woodley with rookie Jarvis Jones on the right side. Woodley played exclusively on the left side since the Steelers selected him in the second round of the 2007 draft.

Odds and end zones

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said defensive end Brett Keisel, who has missed three of the past four games with a foot injury, is expected to return this week at Green Bay. … Tomlin said rookie linebacker Terence Garvin’s hit of Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber was what he was coached to do in terms of being in position to deliver the block, but “not what we were looking for.” Garvin is expected to be fined for hitting Huber high in the chest and making helmet-to-helmet contact. Huber suffered a broken jaw, concussion and cracked a vertebrae in his neck on the hit. Per NFL rules, punters and kickers are protected from all hits to the head and neck area.

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