Woodley's value grows by the day
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On an athleticism scale of 1 to 10, Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley's interception against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday was at least a 14, especially considering how big he is and how he lugged every one of his 265 or more pounds into pass coverage. So why did his teammates give him the business when they saw the play on tape Monday? "They couldn't believe that Chris Johnson -- a 190-pound running back -- brought me down," Woodley said.
Go back to last season. Woodley picked up a Brett Favre fumble and returned it 77 yards for a touchdown to help the Steelers beat the Minnesota Vikings. "They told me I was too slow and that it took me too long to get to the end zone," Woodley said. "No matter what I do, it isn't good enough."
Woodley could bite back, you know? If that were his way.
"You guys are going to miss me when I'm gone ... "
Good thing that's not Woodley's way.
"Absolutely, I want to say here," he said last week.
"I don't have time to start over again somewhere else. I don't want to have to find a new place to live and make new friends. I like it here ...
"My whole life, I've played on big-time football teams. Saginaw (Mich.) High ... Michigan ... The Steelers. You know all about the history and tradition here. That's big to me. Real big."
The Steelers can't let this guy get away, can they? That just can't happen. Director of football operations Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin are too smart to allow it. They almost always find a way to keep a guy they really like. "We know he's a pretty special player. We've told him that," Colbert said during training camp.
Woodley is in the unfortunate spot of having his original four-year contract with the Steelers expiring at the end of the season at a time when there's labor uncertainty in the NFL.
That's why the team wasn't able to do a new deal with him this summer. He's playing this season for $550,000, a ridiculous amount of money for most of us, but next-to-nothing for a Pro Bowl linebacker who had 13 1/2 sacks last season and 11 1/2 in 2008, not counting the two he had in each of three postseason games as the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII.
Depending on how the talks go between the owners and players, Woodley could be a free agent or restricted free agent next spring. It's possible -- almost certain, I say -- that the Steelers will do a new deal with him then or keep him by placing the franchise tag on him. That's if there is a franchise tag in the next basic agreement.
Woodley made it clear before camp that he wasn't pleased by the situation. But he reported on time, has been nothing but a pro and has played a huge part in a Steelers defense that has been terrific in the team's 2-0 start. In addition to the interception against the Titans, he had a sack and a forced fumble, stretching his franchise record to 10 consecutive games with at least half a sack.
"Growing up, I learned you never should get mad at things you can't control," Woodley said. "That's a waste of time. What am I supposed to do? Sit at home and hold out? That's not going to help anything. All I can do is play football. I want to be here, around the guys, playing football."
The fellas appreciate it, even if they do seem to take joy in busting Woodley's chops. I still can hear safety Ryan Clark explaining why that 77-yard return against the Vikings took so long. "Being that LaMarr weighs 370 pounds ... "
Good thing Woodley has a sense of humor to match his talent.
"I can't think of a better player to have behind me," Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith said. "Everybody knows how good he is at rushing the passer. But he's become great against the run. He's very stout.
"This is just his fourth year here. I remember my fourth year. I didn't know anything. It really takes until your sixth or seventh year to really start to figure things out. He's got a lot of great football ahead of him."
It's nice to think Woodley will play that great football with the Steelers. He and Smith make a wonderful pair on the left side of the defense. They were huge in holding the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Turner to 42 rushing yards in the Steelers' opening win, then did even better against the Titans' All-Pro Johnson, holding him to 34 on a day when the defense forced six turnovers. Woodley certainly got even with Johnson for making that tackle.
"You don't have to feel the breath leaving him. You can see it," he said. "When you see a guy slow getting up and not fighting for yards, you know he's tired of getting hit. I definitely saw that with him."
Woodley said he expects the Steelers to play that same kind of punishing defense today against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and in all the games that follow. "It almost feels like it's the Steelers vs. the Steelers. As long as we do what we're supposed to do, we're going to be tough to beat."
A lot of that confidence comes from having a healthy Smith and safety Troy Polamalu. Especially Smith, in Woodley's case.
"It's great playing with Aaron," he said. "He's not just a great player. He's so smart. He's always telling me, 'Watch for this. They're coming our way.' Ninety-five percent of the time, he's right."
That's a nice tribute, but Woodley wasn't quite done. Turns out he gives the abuse as well as he takes it. Maybe better.
"Yeah, definitely, I listen to Aaron. How can I not listen to him? He's been around the league 20 years."
Smith rolled his eyes.
"That's Woodley. He's always telling me I'm old. He loves to talk smack like that."
That changes things a bit, doesn't it?
I won't insult you by asking you to feel sorry for Woodley because he's so underpaid by NFL standards. But, please, don't feel sorry for him because his teammates like to pick on him. He's a big man. Clearly, he can take care of himself, on the field and off.
First Published September 26, 2010 12:00 am