The Pittsburgh Steelers placed LaMarr Woodley on injured reserve Tuesday with a calf injury, ending his frustrating 2013 season. And the emergence of Jason Worilds in Woodley's absence -- he'll end up missing five full games and parts of several others -- has left the salary cap-strapped Steelers between a rock and a hard place.
The 25-year-old Worilds, who is set to be a free agent after this season, leads the Steelers with 7.0 sacks. Under normal circumstances re-signing him would be a no-brainer.
But Pittsburgh has boxed itself into a corner in recent seasons with some unruly contracts -- moves that already have forced them to cut veterans like Willie Colon and James Harrison and to allow WR Mike Wallace to walk. Woodley's current deal, which he restructured this past offseason to help Pittsburgh get cap compliant, is another headache.
Woodley is due more than $25 million in base salary over the next three seasons with another $13 million or so in prorated bonuses still on the books. Because of that restructuring, Woodley holds a cap hit of $13.59 million in 2014 and another approximately $14.1 million in 2015.
The real problem, though, is that the Steelers cannot release him and help themselves. If Pittsburgh cuts Woodley prior to June 1, 2014, it actually would result in a dead-money hit of nearly $14.2 million -- meaning it would be more expensive to send him packing than to keep him on the team and pay him. Waiting until after June 1 would allow the Steelers to push some of that penalty into 2014 ... but that move would not come in time to get Worilds locked up.
So, there's no easy way out here until at least after 2014.
Making matters worse (and possibly eliminating the possibility of keeping both Worilds and Woodley) is that Pittsburgh's current projected salary figure for 2014, per OvertheCap.com, is around $135 million. The league-wide cap for next season is expected to settle just north of $126 million.
So no matter what, the Steelers face some tough decisions in the months ahead.
Woodley's not the only big name potentially on the chopping block, either. Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Levi Brown and Heath Miller all could save the Steelers millions by being handed their walking papers. OvertheCap.com sets the cap savings for releasing that quartet of players at $27 million.
With that extra dough in their pockets, the Steelers might be able to take a closer look at retaining Worilds. Of course, the flip side is that it would force them to part ways with at least three long-time roster stalwarts plus a player they traded for during this season in Brown.
Woodley chalked up a combined 35.0 sacks from 2008-10. He's since recorded only 18.0 while missing at least three games per season.
That the production has not matched the price tag in recent years is a tough enough reality for a team trying to rebuild on the fly. The thought of losing an emerging Worilds on top of it has to have the Steelers feeling quite uneasy. BANKS: Cowboys, Lions return to self-destructive tendencies