Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds is currently scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent come March and during his talk with the media Wednesday, team president Art Rooney II indicated that the former second-round draft pick could be back in 2015.
“I can say I would like to have Jason back,” Rooney told select members of the Pittsburgh media Wednesday morning, according to Bob Labriola of steelers.com. “Like anything else we’ll have to come to a contract agreement with him that both sides can live with, and we’ll see where that goes.”
If the Steelers are unable to sign Worilds to a long-term deal by the start of the new league year, Rooney also indicated that the organization could once again hit him with a tag like they did last offseason and that all options currently remain open to the team at this time.
“I would just say that Jason had a good year,” said Rooney. “I think that as a defense we’ve got to get more sacks and put more pressure on the quarterback. In the games we were successful we were able to do that. That’s a key piece of the puzzle we have to look at as we build this defense going into next year. Jason is certainly a capable pass rusher, so that’s one of the reasons why I’d say we’d like to have him back if we can work something out.”
Worilds received a $9.754 million transition tag last March from the Steelers and should they ultimately choose to tag him again this offseason it will come with a price tag of nearly $12 million.
In order to absorb such a tag amount the Steelers would have to free up more cap room prior to tagging Worilds. Currently the Steelers are right up against the latest projected 2015 salary cap number of $143 million, so a few cuts would likely need to be made in addition to possibly having a new extension worked out with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger by March, which could result in his 2015 cap charge lowering a little.
The Steelers will likely part ways with wide receiver Lance Moore and defensive lineman Cam Thomas by the start of the new league year and those two moves alone will free up $3.5 million in 2015 salary cap space prior to the Rule of 51 roster displacement taking place. In addition to those players, defensive end Brett Keisel and safety Troy Polamalu could both wind up being cut as well. If that were to happen then another $5.25 million in 2015 cap space would be created prior to roster displacement.
In addition to Roethlisberger’s forthcoming contract extension, the Steelers are also expected to extend the contract of defensive end Cameron Heyward between now and the start of the regular season and that move would also free up 2015 salary cap space. That move, however, might not come until later in the summer and after the team has reported to training camp.
One potential salary cap move that’s not being talked about a lot involves wide receiver Antonio Brown. He is a perfect candidate to have good portion of the $6 million base salary that he’s currently scheduled to earn in 2015 restructured and turned into a signing bonus. Such a move could potentially free up roughly $3.5 million in 2015 salary cap space.
In addition to Brown, center Maurkice Pouncey is also another restructure candidate and doing that could potentially free up roughly another $3.5 million in 2015 salary cap space.
As you can clearly see, the Steelers can perceivably afford to tag Worilds for a second straight season, but will they be overpaying in the process?
Worilds finished the 2014 season tied with Heyward for the team lead in sacks with 7.5, but as I showed in a previous breakdown of his quarterback take-downs from last season, most of them weren’t overly impressive.
In including the Wild Card playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, Worilds dropped into coverage 195 times (29.6%) on 658 pass plays run against the Steelers defense in 2014 when he was on the field, according to Pro Football Focus. While that could account for some of the reasons why he failed to hit double-digits in sacks last season, his actual play on the field when he was allowed to rush the passer still leads you to believe that he’s not worth $12 million in 2015.
The Steelers aren’t known as being a team that overpays for a player and even though their outside linebacker depth would take a huge hit if Worilds was to sign elsewhere during free agency, it may be a risk they have to take if a long-term deal at a lower average yearly amount cant be worked out with him.
Worilds and his agent have to know the Steelers current situation at the outside linebacker position heading into the offseason, but at the same time they will have to come up with what he might be worth on the free agent market and weigh that against whatever the Steelers might have on the table.
March 2 is the deadline for tags to be assigned this year, so we only have a little less than seven weeks to go to find out whether or not Worilds will test free agency.