Over the course of the past couple of years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have undergone an uncommon amount of change, which could have been largely correlated with the fact that the team had finished 8-8 in consecutive seasons while failing to advance to the postseason.
In deference to general manager Kevin Colbert, the attitude used to approach the offseason in those years was that this was an 8-8 team and these were 8-8 players. It’s little surprise that a lot of things changed during those years.
But the Steelers are now coming off a season in which they finished with a record of 11-5, going 8-2 down the stretch and winning their last four games to claim their first AFC North title since the 2010 season. Correspondingly, we’ve seen a great deal less change.
Aside from the two aforementioned names, the Steelers lost a third starter to retirement this past offseason, although he was a free agent and was not expected to be re-signed. Still, outside linebacker Jason Worilds’ decision to retire after a five-year playing career certainly caught everybody standing on the sidelines by surprise.
The former second-round draft pick was the Steelers’ most productive pass rusher over the course of the past two seasons, totaling 15.5 sacks and piling up a good number of quarterback hits in addition, although his peak was clearly the second half of the 2013 season.
Seven of his eight sacks in 2013 came in his last eight games, with five of them coming after he moved from the right side to the left. His all-around play had suddenly gotten much better, and it appeared that the proverbial light had finally come on.
Because of that, the Steelers were comfortable tagging him last offseason with a transition tag that was worth nearly $10 million, under which he played in 2014. He signed the contract immediately, which, in hindsight, leads one to wonder if he knew then that this would be his last season.
It took Worilds four years to crack the starting lineup, although he deserves only partial blame for that, as he spent most of his career playing behind two Pro Bowl outside linebackers. He also had an unfortunate injury history that he appeared to overcome, playing all 16 games for only the second time and logging nearly 1000 snaps.
While it could be argued whether or not he was the team’s best pass rusher in 2014—defensive end Cameron Heyward tied for the team lead with 7.5, and also had at least one sack negated by penalty that I can recall—it can’t be argued that a team hurting for pass rushing pressure is not well-served by losing one of its better players.
At mentioned, however, the Steelers commented after his retirement that they did not expect to be able to re-sign him anyway. In order to address the loss, they drafted outside linebacker Bud Dupree in the first round, though they are expected to place Arthur Moats in the starting lineup in Worilds place this season.
Unlike the other retirements the Steelers faced this offseason, Worilds is not an all-time player who will be remembered for generations to come, but he was a solid player who made some money and decided that the time was right for him to move on with his life, which is a choice that I can only respect. But time, and football, march forward without him.