Since free agency began in 2014, one of the biggest signings for the Tennessee Titans has been Wesley Woodyard. While he is listed as an outside linebacker on the official Titans depth chart (titansonline.com), fans can expect him to be playing in the middle.
Woodyard was a Denver Broncos player for his entire six-year career before coming to Nashville. He is a fast, athletic linebacker that has occasionally shown up in a big way. His breakout in 2012 prompted the Broncos to let D.J. Williams walk away. He followed that vote of confidence up with a season marred by injury in 2013, and he lost his starting job to veteran linebacker Paris Lenon.
Woodyard is only 27 years old, and he has plenty of good football left. The question is, how did the Titans do in signing him?
Let’s break down his contract
Woodyard is playing for a base salary of $1.75 million, and 25% of his $3 million signing bonus will count against the 2014 cap. That makes his cap number $2.5 million for 2014. This is very affordable for a player that will be a key contributor.
2015 and Beyond
In 2015, Woodyard’s base salary and cap number jump by $1 million. That means he will count $3.5 million against the 2015 cap that is supposed to make another significant jump. His 2016 cap number will be $4.25 million, and his 2017 cap number will be $5.5 million.
Woodyard’s performance in years 1 and 2 will determine if he is still a Titan for years 3 and 4 of this contract. His 2016-17 cap numbers are not robust for a player that is starting and producing at a high level. If he struggles to stay healthy or maintain a starting role, those cap numbers are simply too high.
If the Titans need out, they could get out next offseason by creating $2.25 million in dead money. It is highly unlikely that they are going to sign a big talent like Woodyard only to cut him one year later.
It is much more likely that they take a second look at him in 2016 if they are feeling the cap crunch. With a cap number of $4.25 million, they could cut him by creating only $1.5 million in dead money. This move in 2016 would free up $2.75 million.
If they wait until 2017, Woodyard is due a roster bonus of $500,000 on the 5th day of the league year. Keeping him around would make his cap number $5.5 million, but cutting him would create only $750,000 in dead money. The Titans could save $4.75 million by cutting him in 2017.
If he makes it to 2017 in Titan blue, count on him getting released before the 5th day of the league year unless he turns out to be a Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker.
Perceived Need: 3/3 – The Titans were pitiful in the middle of the field last year, and Ray Horton coming to town signals a need for two linebackers that can play effectively in the middle. This was a huge need for the Titans.
Contract Dollars: 2/2 – The Titans did not steal Woodyard, but they did not over pay either. 4 years, $16 million is a reasonable rate for a linebacker of Woodyard’s level, and Daryl Smith signed a very similar deal to stay with the Baltimore Ravens last week.
Cap Structure: 2/2 – The Titans back-loaded Woodyard’s deal. Only counting $2.5 million against the cap this year is helpful, and after year 2 of the deal, he can be released for $1.5 million or less. If he does not prove his worth early, the Titans can get out cheap later.
Talent Level: 2/3 – Woodyard has flashed great talent in years past, but we need to see it consistently. It’s concerning that he is coming off of a somewhat down year, but his down play is believed to be the result of an injury.
Total grade: 9/10 – Woodyard is a quality signing for the Titans. If he can take the field and demand respect for his play, he is well worth the money. If he doesn’t end up being worth the signing, they can get out of this deal in a couple of years with a relatively small penalty.
Comments and questions hit me up @titanchaps. Stay tuned in the coming days for a grade on new Titans OT Michael Oher.