Packers sign Julius Peppers, shows position flexibility is crucial in pass-heavy NFL

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

The Steelers are sitting on a bloated cap hit for Jason Worilds while banking on the development of Jarvis Jones while other teams look to fortify their pass rush.

Former Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley arrived via limo to the Raiders' facility last week. Freshly off release in Pittsburgh, he left all his pro experience (and a mountain of dead money) in Pittsburgh.

The Raiders aren't playing the scheme Woodley has played in that pro career. He had a visit lined up with Tennessee, a team coached by former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. He hired former Steelers defensive backs coach Ray Horton to install a 3-4 defense. Woodley had the scheme with which he was familiar all lined up, and the Titans were the odds-on favorite to land the eight-year veteran.

Then, Woodley signed with the Raiders. Just like that, Woodley threw scheme out the window, and will reportedly move back to his collegiate position of defensive end.

Same goes for DeMarcus Ware, who inked a large deal to play the 7-technique in Denver under John Fox.

The Green Bay Packers made the splash of the weekend by signing DE Julius Peppers, recently off a release from the 4-3-loving Chicago Bears. He's going to play outside linebacker in Cheesetown.

Take this from the 10,000 foot level. Pass rushers signed with teams that plan to use them as edge rushers. How much does the stand-up-or-3-point-stance differentials between the two positions even matter anymore? Sure, one coach feels more strongly with one defense vs. another, but the amount of money being spent in free agency on edge pass rushers suggests they don't care about the player's prior history; they just want guys who can rush off the edge.

The Steelers have committed $10.5 million in salary and about $5 million in dead money to three edge pass rushers for 2014. That figure is similar in salary, and a bit lower in dead money but also added a first round pick to the position in 2013.

Yet, while their pressure numbers (sacks-hits-hurries) improved a bit in 2013, their overall sack numbers are the lowest they've been in over 20 years. The team has stagnated in terms of putting quarterbacks on the ground, but their spending and overall investment in their edge pass rush has, at least, increased.

Green Bay is also caught in something of a funk in terms of pressure. A huge portion of that is due to injuries sustained by freakishly athletic OLB Clay Matthews (the last one being a re-break of his right thumb square on the ass of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as Matthews sacked him in Week 16). A healthy Matthews and a rejuvenated Peppers, along with the contributions of some other very athletic players (Datone Jones and Mike Neal, for example) give Packers defensive coordinator (former Steelers DC) Dom Capers plenty of toys.

The Steelers cut the injury-prone Woodley and have the unproven Jason Worilds accounting for $9.75 million against their salary cap with the unproven Jarvis Jones looking to improve on his one sack (two games missed) total in 2014.

Had Woodley been under contract for $12 million over the next two years, he'd still be in Pittsburgh. With that money gone, and Worilds occupying a ridiculous cap figure while currently under a one-year deal, it wouldn't take much for the Steelers to get a long-term deal in place and find a stronger edge rusher.

Otherwise, they're banking on the least amount of proven pass rushers to improve their worst pass rush in decades. That seems just as risky as commonly stated "signing free agents isn't the Steelers way" rhetoric.

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