Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Free Agents Analysis: LB Jason Worilds – Unrestricted

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

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Rosco

    Pittsburgh pays linebackers!!

  • Jollyrob68

    Ever player has to wait their turn with the Steelers. It’s Jason’s time now. keep him, keep Woodley( reduced price) Jones can rotate. Worilds is top FA priority then Al Woods.

  • steeltown

    I have a strong suspicion that they will re-sign Worilds, there’s just no way they can feel happy or comfortable with Woodley anymore, and heading into next season with Woodley, Jones and Carter as the only pass rushers with any experience is not a good position to put yourself in, not if you intend to improve upon an 8-8 Team. As Marczi mentioned in his final thought, this guy is only 25yrs old, lock him up!

  • NW86

    I agree with all the opinions of those who say that the Steelers will make a strong push to keep Worilds. However, it’s hard to ignore that Worilds spent the first 3 years being often injured and never making an impact, and how soon people forget that he actually lost the starting job earlier this season. It’s funny how a lot of the Woodley haters are the same ones clamoring to sign Worilds to a big long-term deal. Remember, at the time Woodley was signed, he had been one of the top pass rushers in the league for his entire 5 yr rookie (near league minimum) contract. There are certainly a lot more question marks with Worilds now than there were with Woodley then.
    I’m afraid that some team will offer him a crazy deal like 5 yrs, $40M based solely on his past 8 games. If so, the Steelers should probably pass to avoid risking a Woodley-type situation with him in the near future.

  • Callentown

    I sure hope the front office learned from last year in letting Keenan Lewis go, just when he had arrive as a great DB. He’s now the best DB on the Saints and the Steelers are still looking for DB help.

    We can’t keep coaching players to the point where they are good and then let them go.

    Pay the man. He’s earned it.

  • Alan Felicia

    Totally agree! Pittsburgh should offer somewhere between $4M-$6M per year, nothing more, nothing less.

  • alex

    my presidential ticket for 2014, Win with Hayward-Worilds!

  • Rick M

    You’re possibly damned if you do and maybe if you don’t on this one. The word “suddenly” was used twice in the above story and that pretty much sums it up. Worilds had several opportunities from the left side with Woodley out in previous years and he didn’t show the power he displayed in his contract year. Yes he got some sacks in 2012, but they weren’t really from overpowering the opposition or using a great spin move. “Suddenly” in 2013, he was a far stronger player with more energy and quality moves.

    Is he a one-year wonder who played harder in his contract year and once he gets a big contract he’ll revert to his pre-2013 form? Or will we see the 2013 Jason Worilds in the years going forward? I don’t envy the Steelers on this decision, and unlike some other players it certainly wasn’t their doing to leave his possible signing until his free agency year.

  • David Edward

    Regardless if you think 5/$40M is crazy or not, that’s pretty much where his market value will likely be at. If Orakpo is retained by the Skins, Worilds will be the top 34 OLB on the market. A “crazy deal” for him woild be something like what Woodley got at 6/$60M.

  • David Edward

    I’ve posted before how they can do a market value deal for Worilds (5/$40M) that will be cap friendly for ’14 and ’15, so I won’t use the space on that here now. However, in my analysis, I showed how they could actually save nearly $6M in space over the next 3 years by cutting Woodley June 1 and signing Worilds to said deal (even when you include dead money) Keep in mind Woodley, with his massive base numbers, is a cap eater at this point.

    I know it’s a risk to sign Worilds to a big deal, but so is retaining Woodley and hoping that he reverses his 3 year trend and stays healthy and becomes a difference-maker again. Sometimes you just have to go with what seems to be the lesser risk..and that would be the 25 yo. OLB on the rise heading into his prime. One tidbit for those who think Worilds will become a slacker…word from his teammates is that he has a strong work ethic and is in the film room more than any other LB.

    As for Woodley taking a pay cut to stay…why would he? I’m sure his agent would rather them just cut him so he can negotiate a deal elsewhere.

  • William Weaver

    Agree. Let him go to whoever over pays for him. Get Woodley to do what Troy did to get his legs healthy by working on scar tissue and then draft a new OLB project 3-4th round. We have to pay Woodley. Can’t afford to pay both when we can’t trust neither to be healthy. Be happy for Jason to get himself paid and move on knowing you will get a supplemental (3rd round) pick for him leaving.

  • srdan

    I agree, how the heck could you trust Woodley’s body? As fans we also question his heart, I’m not sure if the steelers do. What we see is one day a week, they may be seeing something different for hte other six (I doubt it).

    As you point out, the lack of depth at the OLB is alarming. It is going to force the FO’s hand in two ways. 93 will get paid perhaps more than we normally would because he is needed. This is not a bad scenario. The second one I see is bringing Woodley back. Which at this time in his career is not a wise idea. Even without injuries he is at that age(29) where the steelers start looking to replace him. For comparison sake, Joey was 30 when released in 2006.

    Letting 93 walk would create a huge issue for this team. Let’s assume best case scenario if he leaves. Jarvis becomes a monster and woodley plays for 16 games. There is still nothing behind them. We have nobody being groomed that will be ready even in 2-3 years when we should assume that Wood will definetly be gone. Which means that we will need to invest high picks into the OLB position, when we could simply sign 93, and have two promising OLBs and time to not be pressed to draft. And we all know that the steelers will not be able to afford a legit pass rusher in free agency while we still have 7.

    I am with you, letting Worldis is not a scenario that we will likely see.

  • srdan

    Have you seen a OLB prospect from 3-4th round workout on this team?

    Me neither.

  • srdan

    I fully agree. Our new playmakers.

  • srdan

    Great post.

    Like you, I would rather put my eggs in the Worldis basket.

    Why do people always talk about paycuts? It’s crazy. When all us posters check this website at work, do we offer our employers a dollar back for the wasted productivity?

  • srdan

    I agree. But I would put my money on 93 over 56, while neither is a sure thing.

  • srdan

    How do you suggest we get woodley at a reduced rate?

    All you can do is simply ask him. His two choices:

    “Yes Omar, I’ll take a paycut.”
    -This means that instead of getting 8 million base next year he plays for lets assume 4. His bonus is there no matter what.

    “Omar, go screw yourself”
    -This means he gets all of his bonus still and goes onto a market that has no 3-4 olb’s and the teams with 20 million in cap room making transitions to 3/4 defenses (eg eagles and browns).

    What would you do?

  • Nolrog

    Well, Harrison was undrafted and he worked out OK.

  • Nolrog

    >>> As for Woodley taking a pay cut to stay…why would he? Well, he would if the pay cut would still be more than he would make if he was cut and signed somewhere else. So, for example, his base is 8 this year (signing bonus of 2.6 but that was already paid out). So if he cut to 6, he’d save the team some money, but if he went to another team, with his injury history and recent production, maybe he’d make 4.

  • William Weaver

    Someone beat me to James Harrison comment. A lot of steeler greats were 3rd round and beyond. If you can’t get good players after the second round you can’t win in the NFL. That simple.

  • srdan

    Yes, late round gems can be found. No question about it.

    For arguments sake lets say that the batting percentage to be a good starter on 1st round picks is 80%, 2nd round 60%, third round 40% and so on. The likelihood of us getting another harrison is slim.

    To let a promising young playmaker go over a couple million a year(based on arguments in this forum) and hope that a player at 29 and often out of shape will play 16 games next year is a road I would rather the FO not travel. On top of that, Woodleys salary increases in 2015 when he will be 30. How many sacks does he have to get next year to justify a salary of 16 million? It better be a sack a million. Do you expect that from him?? Plus keep in mind, we let joey porter go at 30 and he was producing.

    You last two sentences “If you can’t get good players after the second orund you can’t win in the NFL. That simple.” I fully agree, but disagree with your logic in this argument. You are proposing that we bank on a late round pick or FA come in and start in 2 years at a specific position. I would say that is setting ourselves up to fail. Late round picks work out sometimes like Ike Taylor. But he was brought in while we had high draft picks and solid starters with no expectations from Ike. We got to groom him for 3 or 4 years and then he blossomed. That is how you get late round picks to work out and fill in holes on your team. Not draft them in the 3-4th round and expect them to start in 2 years.

  • srdan

    Who do you think is more valuable on teh market, woodley or Worldis? And by how much?

    Keep in mind that there are teams with 20 mill in salary cap left that are switching to a 3-4.

  • David Edward

    There in lies the problem with that argument. Only way Woodley may accept a pay cut is if it’s above his market value, which would mean the Steelers would still be overpaying for him…which is what a $6M base would be. It would be financially better to cut him and pay Worilds a market value contract which would have low base numbers in ’14 and ’15…not to mention they’d be getting the better player for now and in future in Worilds.

    To make it worth their while to keep Woodley, they’d have to ask him to lower his salary to below market value. That is, unless you’re of the belief that suddenly Woodley will take on a new work ethic like Antonio Brown and morph back into his former self…for a reduced salary! Sounds far fetched to me.

  • Jeff

    Joey Porter (3, 73)
    Jason Gildon (3, 88)
    Clark Haggans (5, 137)
    Greg Lloyd (6, 110)

  • srdan

    haha I agree. Some great players.

    I posted a few days ago about this. The steelers were stealing. We were the only ones running a 3/4. Nobody wanted a undersized defensive end from colorado state. In today’s draft Joey is a top 10 pick.

  • Nolrog

    Hard to answer. Woodley I think, because he’s done it more than once (Worilds only did it for ~half a year, in a walk year, which always makes me nervous.)

  • pittsburghjoe

    High risk based on the fact that he is injury prone and has a marketable body of work consisting of about 1/2 a season over his career. I do not think he will be back unless the Steelers get a reasonable deal. If he is your starter you better have depth…because history shows he is a high injury risk. Woodley’s contract is the X factor that really complicates things.

  • dennisdoubleday

    AND he ended this season injured, too, so that may hurt his FA value.

  • gene mann

    The Injuries are a Concern but so IS WOODLEY WITH HIS INJURIES GETTING PAID ALOT PF $

  • steeltown

    Worilds has been the healthiest LB we have not named Timmons, this year and last

  • Steve

    Good luck getting Woodley to workout, had trouble interviewing him last year.

  • Bob Graff

    Why do you think we haven’t been winning?? Because we haven’t been getting it done on draft day.

  • Bob Graff

    All drafted out of the Tomlin era.

  • Dan

    Would be nice if he loves the Steelers more than his bank account, but realistically he doesn’t have much incentive to take a pay cut. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep Worilds and if Woodley is still around there will be a 50/50 chance that between the two of them we’ll have one or the other healthy for a total of 16 games.

  • Virdin Barzey

    This is probably the biggest no-brainer. He must be signed even if they need to cut Woodley or his salary. I’m a little fearful. like Woodley, once Worrilds gets paid the production goes down instead of up. Hope not.

  • Ryan Barton

    They need to sign him and draft a DE/OLB somewhere in rounds 3-5. They need some quality depth here.

  • Robert Alaniz

    So injuries haven’t factored in at all Bob? Its been all about the draft?

  • 2winz

    James Harrison was an undrafted player and before him, Joey Porter I would say worked out pretty well, clark haggans was pretty decent as well, Greg Lloyd? are those enough names for you? lol

  • pittsburghjoe

    Considering we have been hit hard by the injury bug, that is not that great of a comparison. Dont get me wrong, Steeltown, I like the guy, I just think he is a big roll of the dice. Hopefully other teams will see him the same way and he returns with a friendly contract, if there is such a thing anymore.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    By releasing Woodley after 6/1 the cap hit is minimized to less than $5M. Sign 97 or make him your franchise. Extend/restructure Troy and Ben. Release Clark, potentially bring back the Beard at a reduced price. Ziggy can be serviceable and somewhat affordable and he doesn’t get hurt.

  • Bob Graff

    Yes that’s pretty much the meat and bones of it. there are 2 things to take into consideration 1, We have always been able to plug and play players because our roster was so deep, that just isn’t the case anymore. 2, All teams have injuries that’s not something that just affect the Steelers.

  • steeltown

    I was not in that discussion.. just like the Heyward haters I’ve always said you cant judge these guys until they are given the opportunity to start on a regular week in week out basis