Steelers facing tough decision at OLB

PITTSBURGH -- Larry Foote told 93.7 The Fan on Monday that he hopes the Steelers find a way to keep both LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds.

But during his interview with the Pittsburgh radio station, the veteran inside linebacker also articulated, if unwittingly, why that won’t happen.

Foote, when asked about rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, said, “He has upside to him. He’s very explosive. He can move some linemen out of the way. He’s thirsty. He wants to learn, he wants to get better, he loves to play. Next year, if we’re going to be anything, we’re going to need him to make that big jump.”

That analysis is precisely why the Steelers have to make a choice between Woodley and Worilds.

Jones, the Steelers’ first-round draft pick last year, has to start next season and the Steelers don’t have the luxury of making a big investment in three outside linebackers.

Whether they will have a choice between Worilds and Woodley remains to be seen.

The former can become an unrestricted free agent on March 11 and Worilds’ timing couldn’t be any better.

Following three unremarkable seasons, Worilds broke out in 2013. He led the Steelers with eight sacks despite losing his starting job at right outside linebacker early in the season to Jones.

Worilds later reclaimed that job but he turned into a revelation after a calf injury sustained by Woodley provided an opening at left outside linebacker.

Woodley hasn’t been able to stay healthy since signing a six-year, $61.5 million contract in 2011, but it isn’t as simple as cutting ties with the seventh-year veteran and re-signing Worilds.

If the Steelers release Woodley before June 1 they will have to absorb a 2014 cap hit of just under $14.2 million.

If they release Woodley after that date they would save around $8.5 million in cap space. Of course that extra money won’t help them sign Worilds, who is second among outside linebackers on ESPN Insider Mike Sando’s list of 25 “must-sign” free agentsInsider and will have a new deal long before the start of June.

No question the biggest dilemma facing the Steelers is finding a way to keep Worilds and minimizing the cap hit they take for releasing Woodley. The other possibility for the Steelers is getting Woodley to accept a pay cut and taking their chances that he will stay healthy moving forward.

One thing that seems clear when it comes to Worilds and Woodley: It will be a case of one or the other for the Steelers.