On the Steelers | Analysis : Economics key to Woodley's fate

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Should the Steelers keep LaMarr Woodley or let him go and re-sign Jason Worilds?

General manager Kevin Colbert said they could keep both, but he said it with little conviction and, for many reasons, it just is not conceivable that both Woodley and Worilds will be on the team in 2014.

Forget the finances, who do you start? Worilds is not returning for backup money and you cannot pay him starter money and not start him. They did not draft Jarvis Jones in the first round last year to be a backup in his second season.

So, one must stay and one most go (unless somehow they cannot sign Worilds and release Woodley, which would leave them with only one proven starter, Jones, and he hasn't proven himself yet).

The debate, though, has turned into one of people throwing their hands in the air and declaring that Woodley would cost too much to release. That simply is not the case, as we've pointed out many times; he would cost much, much less.

Woodley is due an $8 million salary in 2014, when he will count $13,590,000 on their salary cap, according to overthecap.com. He is signed through the 2016 season with salaries (and cap hits) of $8.5 million ($14.09M) in 2015 and $9 million ($11.99M) in 2016.

So, let's say they would cut Woodley today. They would save all the salaries they owe him, including the $8 million this year. According to the league's CBA rules, however, all of the pro-rated bonus money that has been spread out over the next three seasons would count this year.

If they cut Woodley today, he would count $14.17 million on their salary cap this year, nearly a wash for what he will count -- $13.59 million -- if you keep him. But by cutting him now, he is wiped off their books for 2015 and 2016 and for a team that many say is in salary-cap hell, that's a significant cap savings -- a total of $25.5 million (his salaries) in both real money and cap savings over three seasons with none of it counting after this one.

If they keep Woodley at his current salary in 2014, they must keep him again in 2015 or face a similar salary-cap issue next year if the debate continues.

Their other option -- besides keeping him or cutting him now -- would be to designate him for release June 1 when the accounting rules laid down by the CBA change. If they would do that, Woodley would count $5.59 million on their cap this year with an $8 million savings from the salary he would not receive.

He would then count $8.98 million on their cap in 2015 -- and nothing in 2016.

Either way, those are significant savings. One thing about designating a player for a June 1 release, the Steelers would not receive that $8 million cap relief for Woodley this year until June 1. Presumably, that savings would not go to any free agent they would like to sign from their own roster or outside. However, that money/cap savings could be put to use toward extending their own players, say Ben Roethlisberger, in June. Or even Cam Heyward, Cortez Allen, Maurkice Pouncey, etc.

They will find the cap savings before March 11 in order to try to sign Worilds and Jerricho Cotchery. The rest can wait until June 1.

There is another approach. They could ask Woodley to take a reduction in salary, say half. That would be a $4 million cap savings this year, which is not insignificant. Would he do it? James Harrison didn't, signing with Cincinnati for less money in 2013 than the Steelers offered in a paycut. At 29, Woodley might want to take his tools elsewhere rather than take a paycut.

When we asked Colbert this past week about whether Woodley's salary-cap implications might have an impact on the Steelers' decision, the general manager replied, "You guys can make the conclusions on that. I am not going to comment on the individual contract."

We also asked Colbert if missing so many games the past three years might be part of the Woodley evaluation. Woodley has missed 14 full games the past three seasons and parts of many others with mostly muscle injuries. He missed 41 percent of the defensive plays the past three seasons playing a position that usually remains on the field at all times.

The general manager called it a "concern" and added, "if the player is not on the field, he isn't helping us."

The more you look closely at the LaMarr Woodley situation, the more you conclude that either by March 11 or after June 1, he no longer will be a Steeler.

Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.

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