By Matthew Marczi
Player: Jason Worilds
Position: Outside Linebacker
Experience: 4 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2013 Salary Cap Hit: $985,000
2013 Season Breakdown: 2013 was certainly an interesting year for the young Jason Worilds, a former second-round draft selection of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. He has battled public scrutiny since being selected, constantly being compared to (or more to the point contrasted against) Sean Lee, an inside linebacker that the Steelers passed over at the time to draft Worilds.
There’s no sense in revisiting the rationale behind the Steelers choosing one over the other, but suffice it to say that the pressure was on Worilds this season. Not only was it simply a contract year, it was a year in which they released the staple, James Harrison, only to go ahead and draft an outside linebacker in the first round in Jarvis Jones.
While Worilds ended up starting the first game of the season, he was heavily rotated with Jones, and the latter was moved into the starting lineup beginning with the second game of the year, starting the next four games before a concussion forced him to miss the Week Seven matchup against the Baltimore Ravens.
When he returned, he lost his job to Worilds, who as a veteran was more knowledgeable of the defense and less prone to being out of position and allowing big plays—which is a problem the defense was having.
Still, Worilds wasn’t exactly lighting up the night sky with his play at right outside linebacker—excepting a two-sack performance against Nate Solder and the New England Patriots—until LaMarr Woodley was injured and the Steelers moved Worilds over to the left outside linebacker spot.
Beginning with the game against the Detroit Lions, it seemed as though a light had come on for Worilds, a light whose switch couldn’t be explained simply by changing sides. After all, the majority of Worilds’ prior playing experience had come from the left side as it was.
In that Lions game, however, it seemed that Worilds finally learned to control and harness a vicious pass rushing spin move that he’d been working on since his college days, and finally began using with great effect in a meaningful game.
That spin move led him to a strong finish to the season that saw him rack up five sacks in his last six games—seven sacks in his last eight games going back to the New England game. But it wasn’t just his sudden pass-rushing ability, which saw him lead the league with 21 quarterback hits.
Worilds suddenly became a much better player against the run and holding contain on the perimeter. With Woodley out, Worilds suddenly became the guy, and for the first time in his four-year career, he stepped up when the team needed him most.
His 63 tackles, eight sacks, and two forced fumbles in 15 games—11-starts—are all impressive numbers, especially when considering that much of those statistics were accumulated in the back half of the season, and certainly command the front office’s attention as they plot a way to keep their blossoming pass rusher.
Free Agency Outlook: Unfortunately for the Steelers, the 3-4 outside linebacker landscape in this free agent market is awfully sparse, if not bone dry. Worilds is likely the most attractive candidate to any 3-4 team seeking a pass rusher, with the possible exception of Brian Orakpo, who is likely to be retained by the Washington Redskins.
The Steelers would have to move a lot of numbers through cuts, restructures, reductions, and extensions, but they can fit in a new contract for Worilds with a workable 2014 cap hit, even considering the fact that releasing Woodley would be prohibitively costly. The best option for Pittsburgh would be to retain all three linebackers for 2014 and let the two best start.
I believe whether or not he returns to Pittsburgh simply depends on how critical the front office deems it to have him back. Even though he’s only now escaping the shadow of an injury-plagued and unspectacular beginning of his career, the second half of the 2013 season showed that Worilds can be a legitimate starter and potential difference-maker.
Worilds certainly seems as though he isn’t in a hurry to flee from the city, so as long as they can promise him a representative salary compensation—and, of course, playing time—then I think the chances are good that the not-yet-26-year-old pass rusher will be back in the starting lineup next season.
Other Steelers Free Agent Player Analysis
Ryan Clark - Unrestricted Free Agent
Emmanuel Sanders - Unrestricted Free Agent
Brett Keisel - Unrestricted Free Agent
Jerricho Cotchery - Unrestricted Free Agent
Ziggy Hood - Unrestricted Free Agent