While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Would it be worth it to sign Jason Worilds to another transition tag as a last resort?
Steelers former 2010 second-round draft pick Jason Worilds seemed to come into his own during the second half of the 2013, during which, for the first time in his career, he had finally established himself as a starter, rather than an up and comer waiting in the wings behind former Pro Bowlers.
He parlayed that performance into a transition tag worth nearly $10 million, under which he played during the 2014 season, and for which the Steelers were on the hook regarding the salary cap. This was made possible by an unexpectedly large jump in the salary cap value, and it’s possible that it could happen again.
While Worilds finished the season tied for the team lead with 7.5 sacks, it would be hard to argue that he improved upon his previous year, or even matched it, especially after he established himself on the left side.
But the Steelers currently find themselves in a situation in which three of their four outside linebackers from last season are all hitting free agency at the same time, with Worilds by far the most likely candidate to actually be a starter in the future.
Even if the team does re-sign either James Harrison or Arthur Moats, they will still in all likelihood be looking for a more viable answer as a starter, with Worilds the primary candidate. They saw the effects of having a sporadic pass rusher last season, and losing one of your best pass rushers doesn’t help fix the problem.
While both sides would like to stay together, it is conceivable that they will not be able to find mutually agreeable terms. Team president Art Rooney II yesterday said that he had not ruled out the possibility of using the transition tag to sign him again.
Given the situation at outside linebacker and the current state of the pass rush, it’s hard to argue against resorting to the transition tag again as a last resort to retain Worilds. He isn’t a Pro Bowl pass rusher, and is not worth the $10 million or so it would take, but the alternative of losing him looks pretty ugly for a team that believes it’s operating in a championship window. Having a pass rush is a key ingredient in reaching that plateau.