Woodley whiffing on a tackle. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers LaMarr Woodley Deserves Spot on La Canfora's "Worst Contracts Team"

 

Last week, CBSSportsline’s Jason La Canfora created a  “Worst Contracts Dream Team” in an effort to illustrate the “worst of the worst” in the league at the moment.  Although I agreed with many of the players and contracts mentioned by the analyst, La Canfora’s omission of LaMarr Woodley definitely left me puzzled.

 

2011-2012 On-Field Performance

I am sure that most of you remember when the Steelers lavished Woodley with a hefty six-year contract worth $61.5 million back in the summer of 2011.  Of course, I was one of the few who recognized what an absolute “dumpster fire” of a mistake that re-signing the outside linebacker would be.  In fact, I even outlined in great detail why extending Woodley was a such a moronic decision back in 2011.  Obvious warning signs aside, I think that it is safe to say that LaMarr has drastically underperformed since he received his mega-deal.

Due to various injuries and poor conditioning, the outside linebacker has only played in 23 out of a possible 32 regular season games since he inked his deal.  What is even more ridiculous is the fact that the one-time Pro Bowler has only combined to rack up 13.0 sacks (including only 4.0 last year) during that span.  When he has actually suited up though, Woodley’s impact has been minimal and inconsistent.  In fact, the former 2007 2nd round pick failed to record a single sack in 11 of the 23 aforementioned games!  I certainly hate to be a “Negative Nancy,” but wasn’t Woodley’s pass-rushing prowess what earned him his “pay day?”

Woodley’s decline has only been exacerbated by his lack of hustle and poor conditioning habits.  This in turn has hurt his ability to play against the run and utilize his once dangerous “bull-rush” too.  The absences of Aaron Smith and a consistently healthy James Harrison have also been considerably detrimental to the outside linebacker’s success as well.  Without those two helping him in the pass-rushing and extra-attention departments, it is no wonder that LaMarr’s ability to make plays has suffered..

Thankfully, the outside linebacker’s ineffectiveness has been noticed by his coaches, members of the media and his teammates.

Prior to the 2012 season, Keith Butler questioned LaMarr’s “desire to be great,” and discussed how he was overweight and too “complacent.”  Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review stepped up in January and said that the underachieving linebacker let the 8-8 team down the most with his sub-par play last year.  And while the comments made by Butler and Kovacevic were direct, one of his teammates had some less-than flattering things to say about the outside linebacker’s drive and play in 2012 this past spring.

While some of Woodley’s most ardent cheerleaders were enraged that the player who criticized “Mr. Stay Puft” was quoted as “anonymous,” I hope that they take the following into account:

Not a single member of his team questioned the validity of what was uttered!  In fact, nobody put themselves out there to dispute what was said about him and his issues from a truth standpoint!

I understand that the anonymous nature of the comments in Cook’s article might not have been the most classy way to criticize a teammate (let alone anybody).  Yet aforementioned player had every right to voice their displeasure over the underachieving outside linebacker, and I can understand why he would be when one considers what LaMarr is supposed to be paid over the remaining years of his current contract.

 

LaMarr’s (Now) Back-Loaded Deal

To be fair, LaMarr is not set to earn a large chunk (by N.F.L.-standards) of change during the 2013 campaign.  In fact, thanks to some shrewd and necessary restructuring by Omar Khan & Co. over the last two offseasons, Woodley is only scheduled to earn $3.6 million in base salary this fall and will account for a reasonable total cap hit of $9.19 million (w/bonuses included).

Unfortunately for Pittsburgh’s front office, 2013 is the financial “calm before the storm” when it comes to LaMarr’s deal.  In fact, what Woodley is scheduled to earn during the final three seasons (2014, 2015, 2016) is what Khan & Co. should give Khan & Co. nightmares:

 

  • 2014: $8 million base salary, $2.6 million signing bonus, $2.99 misc. bonus (Cap Hit: $13.59 million)

 

  • 2015: $8.5 million base salary, $2.6 million signing bonus, $2.99 misc. bonus (Cap Hit: $14.09 million)

 

  • 2016: $9 million base salary, $2.99 misc. bonus (Cap Hit: $11.99 million)

 

I know it’s somewhat obvious, but what makes Woodley’s contract an enormous “football to the groin” to Pittsburgh’s brass is the fact that the already finished 2011 and 2012 seasons were assumed to be his most productive of it!  The deal was originally structured to be front-loaded and pay the outside linebacker his biggest bucks when he was still in the “prime of his career.”

Due to the salary cap constraints though, the Steelers have had to back-load Woodley’s contract and pay him much more money during the final years of his contract instead.  Worst of all, the possibility exists that the outside linebacker’s best football could very well be behind him, especially since he will reach 30 years of age in November of 2014.

Even if his play continues to decline, the Steelers could be stuck with LaMarr until after the 2016 season simply due to the cap hit they would take if they released him too early.  As awful as it sounds, Colbert & Co. might have to continue to cut enormous checks to the outside linebacker at ages 30, 31 and 32 regardless of how well (or not so well) he plays (if at all) during the “washed-up” stages of his career.

 

Final Thoughts

For a guy who was supposed to be a lynch-pin on the defense as they bridged the gap from “young to old,” LaMarr has drastically come up short in that area over the last two years.  I am just glad that people like Kovacevic and his unnamed teammate who made the comments have actually stopped drinking the “Woodley Kool-Aid” and were willing to call-out the player who makes more money than everybody else on the team not named Ben Roethlisberger.

Luckily for Woodley, he still has some time to turn his career around and play up to his large contract.  He is apparently staying in shape and looks prepared to prove his doubters wrong this fall.  Sadly this is June, and LaMarr must still prove that he can stay relatively injury-free over the final four years of his deal.  Moreover, it is not a guarantee that he will stay physically fit and will be as effective as he was during his early-twenties.

Unfortunately for the outside linebacker, the road back to effective play will not be easy.  Offensive tackles around the league have figured out how to neutralize him as a pass-rusher if they can keep his bull-rush in check, because there is no way that he is beating anybody decent off the edge with his “speed.”  Furthermore, it does not help “Mr. Stay Puft” that Smith’s and Deebo’s replacements, Jason Worilds and Ziggy Hood, do not and will never require the type of extra-attention that the Pro Bowlers did during their respective careers.

While I would love nothing more than to see the outside linebacker succeed, I certainly will not be shocked to see another single-digit sack and/or injury-plagued season on the horizon for him.

 

 

Readers: Should Woodley’s contract and sub-par play earn him a spot on La Canfora’s list?  Are there any other players on Pittsburgh’s roster who should have been mentioned?

 

 

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Stats Provided By: ESPN.com

Contract Info. Provided By: Spotrac.com

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Tags: 2013 Offseason Lamarr Woodley Pittsburgh Steelers

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