Steelers prepare for free agency by releasing Woodley

Steelers prepare for free agency without former Pro Bowl OLB

March 10, 2014
Pittsburgh Steelers will release linebacker LaMarr Woodley in advance of the free-agent period that begins Tuesday. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The Steelers have informed former Pro Bowl linebacker LaMarr Woodley that they will release him by 4 p.m. today with a June 1 designation.

Pittsburgh also worked out a deal with veteran cornerback Ike Taylor to lower his salary this year from $7 million to stay with the team in 2014.

By making the move with Woodley, the Steelers will allow the 2007 second-round draft pick the opportunity to sign with another team when the free agency period begins at 4 p.m.

However, since the Steelers have designated his release for post-June 1, his entire 2014 salary of $13.59 million will continue to count against the Steelers’ salary cap number until that date, regardless of whether he signs with another team. After June 1, the Steelers will get $8 million in salary cap relief, with the remaining $5.59 million of Woodley’s salary being pushed into 2015.

Had the Steelers simply released Woodley without the June 1 designation or traded him, it would have cost them nearly $14.2 million against their salary cap.

The Steelers signed the 29-year-old Woodley to a six-year, $61.5-million contract extension, the richest ever given to a Pittsburgh defensive player, in 2011, after he recorded 35 sacks in his first three seasons as a starter (2008-2010)

The Steelers’ faith in Woodley seemed well-founded in 2011, when he recorded nine sacks in the first seven games.

But a hamstring injury in a 25-17 victory over New England limited him to just two more games the rest of that season, and Woodley missed eight full games and portions of others with ankle and leg injuries. He managed just nine sacks in 24 games over the past two seasons.

“Is that a concern? Yes,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said recently of Woodley’s injury history. “I think any time a player has an injury, if it extends beyond the season, it does become a concern. It has to be, because if a player’s not on the field, then he’s not helping us.”

With Woodley limited to 11 games last season, fourth-year linebacker Jason Worilds emerged to lead the Steelers with eight sacks. Pittsburgh placed the transition tag on Worilds, who was scheduled to become a free agent today. Worilds will be paid $9.75 million this year, though the Steelers are working on a long-term deal that will lower his cap number this season.

Without Woodley, whose 57 career regular-season sacks rank seventh on the team’s all-time list, the Steelers will open the season with Worilds and Jarvis Jones, a 2013 first-round draft pick, as their starting outside linebackers.

Though the cap savings gained from Woodley’s release won’t be immediately recognized, it could help the Steelers in free agency, which begins at 4 p.m. today.

Taylor, who turns 34 in May, tweeted the news about his decision Monday afternoon, posting, “The INK is about to dry on this a LIFER...will retire as a ROONEY and a LEBEAU.”

Long a favorite of team chairman emeritus Dan Rooney and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Taylor’s play dipped last season.

A fourth-round draft pick in 2003, Taylor was entering the final year of a contract that paid him $7 million and had a salary cap value of nearly $12 million. His new base salary is $2.75 million, which would give the Steelers $8 million in cap space prior to the opening of today’s free agency period.

The Steelers reportedly contacted the agents for three free agent cornerbacks – Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner, Miami’s Nolan Carroll and Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn – during the NFL’s three-day negotiating period. Beginning last Saturday, teams were permitted to contact agents of potential free agents, though no contracts could be signed.

The Steelers have 19 players set to become free agents today, including safety Ryan Clark, defensive ends Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, running backs Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling and offensive linemen Fernando Velasco and Guy Whimper.

Dale Lolley has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1993 after previously working at WJAC-TV and the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, and The Derrick in Oil City. A native of Fryburg, Pa., he is a graduate of North Clarion High School and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he earned a degree in journalism. He has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since joining the Observer-Reporter in 1993, and also serves as the outdoors editor. He also is a radio host for Pittsburgh’s ESPN 970-AM, and serves as administrative adviser for the Red & Black, Washington & Jefferson College’s student newspaper.

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