PITTSBURGH (AP) – The Pittsburgh Steelers have made their choice at outside linebacker, and it isn’t LaMarr Woodley.
A person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press the Steelers will part ways with the former Pro Bowler, a move that hardly serves as a surprise after fifth-year linebacker Jason Worilds agreed to accept a “transition player” tag last week.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the move is not yet official. The 29-year-old Woodley will likely be designated a post-June 1 salary cap cut, but is free to sign with another team when the new league year begins Tuesday afternoon.
By postponing the move until after June 1, the Steelers would free up about $8 million in salary cap space in 2014. The money saved will likely go toward signing the team’s selections in the NFL Draft in May. Woodley will, however, count $8.5 million against the team’s cap number in 2015.
Woodley signed a six-year, $61.5 million contract in 2011, but has struggled to remain healthy. He missed at least three games in each of the last three seasons as hamstring and other lower body issues kept him sidelined for long stretches.
The turning point came in a 25-17 win over New England on Oct. 30, 2011. Woodley sacked Tom Brady twice in that game but also left with a strained hamstring. He had nine sacks at the time of the injury, played in two games the rest of the way and could never seem to rediscover the productivity that made Woodley and James Harrison one of the most feared outside linebacker combinations in the league.
The Steelers released Harrison last March and selected Jarvis Jones in the first round of the 2013 draft, making him the heir apparent to Harrison. Jones finished with just one sack but appeared to get better as the season progressed.
Woodley did not. He failed to get a sack after Oct. 20 and ended the season on injured reserve. While Woodley sat with calf problems, Worilds thrived. He led Pittsburgh with eight sacks despite playing across from a rookie still adjusting to the league.
The decision to release Woodley is the latest in a busy week for the Steelers, who have been forced to become aggressive to get under the salary cap by Tuesday. Safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller signed more cap-friendly contracts last week, while Pittsburgh also released offensive tackle Levi Brown, cornerback Curtis Brown and linebacker Larry Foote.
The Steelers agreed to terms with safety Will Allen. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported wide receiver Antonio Brown restructured his contract.
All the movement, however, is unlikely to make the typically conservative Steelers major players when free agency begins.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org