Steelers Free Agent Focus: Jason Worilds Named Transition Player… Now What?

Of all the free agent moves and decisions the Pittsburgh Steelers have and will face in 2014, not is as tricky as that of Jason Worilds. In fact, Worild’s situation is complexity in its own right, but the concurrent situation with LaMarr Woodley transforms the complex into complicated.

  • Since the advent of free agency, the Steelers MO has been simple:  Resign their own players before they reach the open market.

While fans inside Pittsburgh and in Steelers Nation were howling over the Steelers refusals to enter into bidding wars for the likes of Reggie White, the Steelers were quietly locking down the likes of Greg Lloyd and Dermontti Dawson to extensions, thereby keeping them off the market.

The system of course wasn’t fool proof. The Steelers limited revenues from Three Rivers Stadium forced Dan Rooney, Bill Cowher, and Tom Donahoe to be far more choose than Cowher, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert, and Mike Tomlin have had to be thanks to Heinz Field.

  • But there’s a rub to the system.

Players need to develop fast enough for the Steelers to move proactively. Antonio Brown did, and the Steelers acted swiftly thereby securing a blue chip player while saving themselves tens of millions of dollars in the process (even if Brown’s first contract was a bit of a leap of faith.)

In contrast, Keenan Lewis didn’t blossom until his 4th year. There were signs of it in year 3, but nothing that would have justified a long-term commitment. By the time it was clear, Lewis’value and the Steelers salary cap struggles made deal impossible.

The Steelers were facing a similar situation with Jason Worlids, and in doing so they used one of the “weapons” at their disposal – they placed the transition tag on him, which guarantees Worlids 9 million in change and gives the Steelers the right of first refusal to any contract he signs.

The next questions is, now what?

Capsule Profile of Jason Worilds with the Steelers

The Steelers picked Jason Worilds in the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL Draft, passing on Sean Lee among others. And for much of the time since then, commentators have criticized them for the move.

Worlds first season was spent largely on special teams, although he did get into the Miami “fumble” game and recorded his first sack. Worlids first significant playing time came in 2012, when LaMarr Woodley injured his hamstring and James Harrison was recovering for an orbital fracture. Worlids did manage 3 sacks, but struggled against the run.

In 2012 Worilds was limited by a wrist injury, but despite that and despite only starting 3 games, he led the team in sacks with 5 after the first month or so. However, he failed to add to that total.

  • During 2013 Worilds had a breakout year. Or at least half of a breakout year.

After failing to beat out rookie Jarvis Jones during preseason, Worilds opened the season on the bench, but Jones’ faltering and chronic injuries to LaMarr Woodley thrust Worilds into the starting line up. There he recorded 8 sacks in 11 starts.

The Case for Resigning Jason Worilds

The use of the transition tag does not ensure that Worlids remains a Steeler. Transition players do get signed, and a team that really wants Worilds could easily design a deal that is hard for them to match.

  • But that’s not likely to happen.

Teams might make a run at Worilds and any deal that emerges is likely to be one the Steelers can match or not if they choose. The case for resigning Worlids were that to happen lies in the need to invigorate the Steelers defense with youth. Worilds is only 26, where as Woodley will be 30 by season’s end. And the Steelers need quality pass rushers and Worilds has shown he can do that.

The Case for Letting Worilds Walk

Jason Worilds is still free to negotiate with other NFL teams. That may not happen but given the scarcity of pass rushers on the free agent market, Worilds phone just may ring.
If that happens then the Steelers will have a decision to make.

Ultimately their decision will come down to how much they, and not some other team thinks that Worilds is worth. In this sense, they’ve given themselves some flexibility.

Curtain’s Call on the Jason Worilds

The Steelers have made their fist major decision in Free Agency. When it comes to Jason Worilds vs. LaMarr Woodley, they’re choosing Worilds.

  • Yet, they’re not quite willing to jump in the pool with both feet.

That suggests some disagreement within the Steelers organization. Something similar happened with Max Starks in 2008. Starks had fallen out of favor with some of the offensive coaches (most probably Bruce Arians and probably also Larry Zierlin) yet management saw enough in him to keep him around.

They made Starks their transition player and he started the season as the NFL’s highest paid non-starting tackle. While many mocked the move, Starks saved the season that ultimately ended at Super Bowl XLIII.

  • Its unlikely that Worilds will meet the same fate.

Should Worilds and Woodley both make the Steelers opening day roster, they’d both account for 18% of the team’s salary cap alone. That means that Woodley is likely to be cut, by June first if not before.

  • However, the Steelers have given themselves some room to play, and to some extend some leverage.

In offering Worilds the transition tender, the Steelers have set a baseline for how much money a team would have to offer Worilds up front. If someone wants to overpay, the Steelers can simply say “Thanks, but no thanks” (and then hope to hell Woodley stays healthy.)

If no offers come, then they can still sign Worilds to a long term, more cap friendly deal. They’d of course need to offer him 9 million and change in the form of a bonus and probably a little more, and Worilds might be more inclined to stay if he feels wanted.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2014 Free Agent Focus.

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