The Steelers began this accelerated signing period with one key defensive player set to play under the franchise tag, another hitting unrestricted free agency, and another fellow with long, wavy black hair entering the last year of his contract.
Now that offseason checklist has another item crossed off following the signing of linebacker LaMarr Woodley to a long-term deal this morning. The NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora reports that the six-year contract is worth $61.5 million, making it the second-richest contract in team history behind only Ben Roethlisberger. La Canfora also broke down the financial details of the signing, noting that Woodley will make $27 million over the first two years of the deal.
Reaching an agreement with Woodley and avoiding a season under the franchise tag was crucial for a Steelers team that as of yesterday was reportedly $11 million over the salary cap. That surplus started to shrink when Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, James Harrison, Brett Keisel, and Chris Kemoeatu agreed to restructure their contracts, and Max Starks and aRandle El were released.
But Woodley’s new deal becomes the most significant cost-cutting measure. Now instead of playing under a one-year contract dictated by the franchise tag worth about $10 million, Woodley and his 23.5 sacks over the last two years will be wearing black-and-gold for a cap hit that’s roughly half of that number.
As Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes, another major element reducing the salary cap space Woodley occupies is the massive $22.5 million signing bonus he received. That sum undoughtedly made Woodley’s heart grow three sizes its size as he listened to The Steve Miller Band’s “Take The Money and Run” while signing the contract from the comfort of his bed.
With Woodley secured and Ike Taylor re-signed last week, the Steelers can now turn their attention to Troy Polamalu, the aforementioned wavy-haired character (just in case you thought it was someone else). Inside linebacker Lawerence Timmons is also in the final year of his contract and is due for a raise. Timmons was rated as the second-best linebacker against the run by Pro Football Focus last year, and was a vital component in a Steelers rush defense that nearly set an NFL record in 2010.
The structure of Woodley’s contract clears some cap wiggle room for the Steelers to negotiate with Polamalu, Timmons, and wide receiver Mike Wallace, who will be a restricted free agent next March.