The speculation over the payday pending for Pittsburgh Steelers free agent outside linebacker Jason Worilds is blooming by the day, to the point where it seems we should all take it as a given that he is going to be unaffordable to keep.
Worilds’ career is often compared to that of Paul Kruger, a fellow former second-round draft pick who cashed in on a big late- and postseason run at the tail end of his rookie contract and was rewarded with a five-year, $40 million contract. Like Worilds, Kruger wasn’t able to crack the starting lineup until his fourth year.
When citing Kruger, many do so as a way to estimate the type of contract that Worilds is likely to receive. That may well be the case, but I take the comparison to Kruger as more of a cautionary tale.
After all, in Kruger’s first season with the Cleveland Browns in 2013, he started every game, but he had just 4.5 sacks. He had 4.5 sacks in four postseason games in 2012, which is where he really earned not only his money, but his reputation, and that was as an encore to a nine-sack season in which he rotated with then-rookie Courtney Upshaw.
Worilds didn’t even match Kruger’s season, and yet he’s being discussed as perhaps an even better player from an even more finite body of quality work.
The National Football League is not always the home of the most rational and shrewd businessmen and evaluators, and so this very well may not hold true, but teams should be more cautious of Worilds not only than of Kruger, but also because of Kruger.
Even though I do not believe it will be the case, it would be foolish to deny that Worilds undoubtedly has the potential to be a one-hit wonder, yet the talk around the league doesn’t seem to reflect the due caution.
That likely has quite a lot to do with the fact that the free agency pool for pass-rushing outside linebackers is remarkably thin, and will be close to non-existent after the Washington Redskins either apply the franchise tag to or re-sign Brian Orakpo, which is expected to happen as early as today.
An article on the league’s website wrote that as many as six to eight teams could be in the mix to pursue Worilds should he hit free agency. Would this be the case in a year in which there was a good crop of pass rushers in free agency or coming out in the draft?
That is highly doubtful, considering the evaluation of Worilds is coming almost solely from an eight-game stretch in a four-year career that already includes seven games missed, and others hampered, due to injury.
There’s little doubt that so much of Worilds’ appeal rests not on a body of work, but rather as future projection of potential. He may be the most difficult free agent to evaluate in this entire offseason because of that.
But there’s also little doubt that many teams are willing to pony up excessive amounts of money for what amounts to little more than projection, especially when other options in a particular year are sparse. Worilds has hit a perfect storm of desirability.
The Steelers are a little more than a week from allowing him to test the open market, so if they plan on keeping him, they should be in serious talks with him right now, working out a contract, and that contract will likely be comparable to the one that Kruger got simply because they won’t get him for much less. Even if reason suggests that more caution is due.