General manager Kevin Colbert said it is possible the Steelers could do both, even though Colbert also conceded the organization “has some work to do” to get in compliance with the salary cap by March 11.
Even if it is possible to fit Woodley’s bloated contract and the lucrative one Worilds will sign under the cap, the Steelers would have to sell such a scenario to Worilds -- and even themselves.
Worilds told ESPN.com recently that he wants assurances the Steelers see him as a long-term starter before he will agree to stay in Pittsburgh. Worilds would be leery of re-signing with the Steelers if they still have Woodley and Jarvis Jones.
Jones was the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2013, and the organization made another commitment to him this week when it hired Joey Porter as a defensive assistant. One of Porter’s main tasks after re-joining the Steelers will be helping turn Jones into an NFL pass-rusher -- preferably the kind that Woodley used to be before injuries derailed the seventh-year veteran.
Whether Woodley can re-gain the form that made him a feared pass-rusher just a couple of seasons ago is a question the Steelers will have to address when Colbert, the coaches and scouts meet Thursday to discuss free agency.
The Steelers’ own free agents will be discussed, and Worilds tops a list that also includes wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
What kind of offer the Steelers make to Worilds will be dictated by how much they feel they can trust Woodley moving forward.
Woodley hasn’t been able to stay healthy since the Steelers made him the highest defensive player in franchise history, and he has missed 14 games since signing that six-year, $61.5 million contract in 2011.
The nagging lower-body injuries and his contract have clouded Woodley’s future in Pittsburgh.
“Is that a concern? Yes,” Colbert said of Woodley’s recent injury history. “I think any time a player has an injury, if it extends beyond the season I think it does become a concern. It has to be, because if a player’s not on the field he’s not helping us.”
Releasing Woodley, especially before June 1, would be costly for the Steelers with all of the dead money in his contract because of restructurings.
So it’s not as simple as either/or when it comes to Woodley and Worilds. Colbert seems confident the Steelers can massage the numbers and keep both, even without using a franchise or transition tag on Worilds.
The question is, do they want to keep both, especially when they also have a significant investment in Jones?
We should find out in about a month.