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 pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Would it be worth it to sign Jason Worilds to another transition tag as a last resort?
For the past several seasons, the Steelers have had an uncharacteristically difficult time generating sacks on opposing quarterbacks, and it’s hard to say that there isn’t a correlation between that an overall defensive performance, at least in this particular case.
The Steelers had become accustomed to generating between 40 and 50 sacks per season, but in recent years, that number has dipped to the low- to mid-30s, with overall pressure also slipping to below acceptable levels.
It has had a tangibly negative affect on the secondary’s ability to escape the big play, with quarterbacks taking advantage of longer windows to deliver vertical passes to their receivers who had the time to escape coverage when the pass rush failed to get home.
Nobody has generated more pressure and gained more sacks for the Steelers over the past two seasons than has Jason Worilds, whose 15.5 sacks in the past two years it three more than the next-closest total on the team in that timeframe. He has also led the team in sacks, or shared the lead, in each of the last two years.
But he is also a free agent after playing the 2014 season on a transition tag worth nearly $10 million. Worilds never had any further incentive to work out a long-term contract after the fact, so the Steelers were on the hook for that after failing to reach agreeable terms on a long-term deal.
What if the two sides once again fail to meet in the middle on a long-term deal? Would it be wise to saddle the organization with another disproportionately large cap hit for ostensibly the team’s best pass rusher, or would it be more prudent to move on and use that money to find a cheaper alternative while filling other holes?
Realistically, Worilds is not a Pro Bowl talent, and while he might not be easy to replace, he certainly is not irreplaceable. A cap hit in excess of $10 for Worilds based on his previous body of work would be hard to justify, even if it means walking away from your best pass rusher on a team with championship aspirations that is struggling to generate pressure. Hopefully plugging holes in other areas and a more creative and aggressive pressure package will help balance things out.