The move was an inevitable one, but that doesn't mean it was easy or that there was really any joy in it. LaMarr Woodley's Steelers' career ended yesterday with him being released, and it wasn't so long ago that such an outcome would have been unthinkable.
Woodley was the team's No. 2 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, which also made him the second pick of the Mike Tomlin era, and it wasn't long after that he had formed what was a Batman & Robin on-field partnership with James Harrison.
When the 2008 season began, the Steelers' version of Batman & Robin began terrorizing opposing quarterback like few of their OLB tandems ever had. Harrison posted a franchise record 16 sacks, Woodley added 11.5, and the Steelers defense finished as the NFL's No. 1 unit thanks in no small part to 51 sacks and 29 takeaways.
Then came the playoffs, and after Woodley posted two sacks in each of the three postseason games to help the Steelers win Super Bowl XLIII he seemingly had established himself as a star. The 2008 season was the beginning of a three-year run in which Woodley posted 35 sacks in 47 regular season games and nine more in six playoff games. In the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl XLV, the conclusion of a 2010 season in which Harrison had 10.5 sacks and Woodley added 10 more, it wasn't exactly clear who was Batman and who was Robin anymore.
Then came the injuries, the first being a hamstring in 2011 that caused Woodley to miss six of the final eight games of the regular season as well as the one playoff game. The following season another hamstring injury cost him one game and a high ankle sprain sidelined him for two more. Last year, the same year that the Steelers drafted Jarvis Jones on the first round and Jason Worilds emerged as the kind of player the team thought he could be when it made him a second-round draft pick in 2010, Woodley missed another five games with injuries to both of his calves.
When Woodley was placed on the injured reserve list on Dec. 17, and when the Steelers followed that move a few months later by placing the transition player designation on Worilds, the notion that the team would have to release him seemed unavoidable. And the unavoidable became official yesterday at 4 p.m.
According to reports, the Steelers decision to designate Woodley for a June 2 release means he will count $5.59 million against their 2014 salary cap and then another $8.58 million against their 2015 salary cap. He won't count anything on their 2016 salary cap, which would have been the final year of his contract.
Because Woodley was due to count $13.6 million against their cap this year had they kept him, the Steelers will have cleared another $8 million off their cap this year once Woodley's release goes on the books on June 2.
Even though the Steelers won't be able to access that $8 million in cap money until early June, Woodley is immediately free to sign with another team.
And so it's over. Just a few years ago, the Steelers had the most productive tandem of outside linebackers in the NFL. James Harrison and Lamar Woodley combined for 89.5 sacks during a four season span from 2008-11. But within a calendar year, both are gone – Harrison to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013 and Woodley to parts unknown in 2014.
And so now the baton has been passed to Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. The standard is the standard.