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: Will Jason Worilds perform at his highest level yet in 2015 if he is re-signed?
Steelers outside linebacker was not allowed to hit the open market in his fifth season a year ago when the front office elected to slap him with the franchise tag, which he happily signed, electing to play out the year for nearly $10 million rather than pursuing a long-term extension.
It’s unlikely that the Steelers will tag him again for a value worth even greater than that, I believe, so if he is brought back, I expect it to be via a long-term extension. No matter what happens, however, this hypothetical makes the assumption that the front office gets the job done and puts Worilds back on the field for the Steelers in 2015.
Worilds earned that transition tag after turning up his game in the second half of the 2013 season, during which he recorded the majority of his team-leading eight sacks. Despite playing every game as an entrenched starter in 2014, however, he only finished with 7.5 sacks.
Yet general manager Kevin Colbert recently spoke of Worilds as a player still on the rise. Can we reasonably assume that what we see from him in 2015 will be better than what we have seen over the past two seasons?
While it’s true that one might predict that the defense overall should be better, enabling Worilds to have more opportunities to be productive, there are no guarantees that that will actually translate to a more productive player, nor better numbers.
Already we saw, I believe, a regression from the back half of 2013 to much of the 2014 season, both in terms of his consistency as a pass rusher in generating pressure and in his ability to hold the point against the run.
The Steelers were banking on the fact that the midpoint of the 2013 season was the light bulb moment in Worilds’ career, but the inconsistencies of 2014 suggest that it may not have been that simple. If the defense as a whole is better, and the Steelers rush their linebackers more, Worilds may put up that elusive 10-sack season, perhaps, but that wouldn’t necessarily translate to a better overall performance.