Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have placed the transition tag on linebacker Jason Worilds, they will have the right to match any offer sheet he should sign with another team. With that being said, what kind of contract structure would they potentially have a tough time matching?
For starters, the Steelers use of the transition tag on Worilds means that they are prepared for him to count $9.754 million against their salary cap in 2014. So theoretically, any offer sheet that he should sign would have to exceed that amount in year-one of the deal in order for them to consider letting him walk away. This of course assumes a team doesn’t decide to severely overpay Worilds to the tune of $11 million a year with an ungodly amount of guaranteed money attached. Anything is possible, but let’s face it, Worilds has a ceiling as far as his market value goes.
So let’s assume a team thinks that Worilds is worth the same amount as Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Paul Kruger, who signed a five-year, $40.5 million contract during free agency last year. That deal only included a $6 million signing bonus, but also included a first-year guaranteed roster bonus of $6.285 million and guaranteed base salaries of $715,000 and $7 million in the first two years of the deal. In total, Kruger received $20 million guaranteed over the first two-years and his first-year cap hit was a lofty $8.2 million.
You can rearrange the first two years of that same deal above and produce a first-year cap charge of $11.2 million by merely giving a first-year guaranteed base salary of $3.715 million and a second-year guaranteed base salary of only $3 million. That contract still produces $20 million guaranteed over the first two years of the deal and even produces a lowly cap charge of just $5.2 million in the second year of the deal. The average yearly value of the deal, $8.1 million, hasn’t changed. What has changed, however, is the cash spent in year one, which is $16 million as opposed to $13 million. For teams way underneath the cap, this probably isn’t going to be that big of deal.
The good news about the contract scenario above, if you are one of the people hoping for the Steelers to retain Worilds, is that there is probably only eight or nine teams with enough cap space in 2014 that would be willing to structure a deal like that. On top of that, a team would have to wait until 11 days into free agency before getting Worilds to sign an offer sheet for such a deal. Even then, they would have to be sure the Steelers wouldn’t match it as they risk valuable time should that happen.
In other words, the Steelers are gambling that Worilds will not receive an offer sheet that not only overpays him, but one that will also be fair market value but severely poisoned by an outrageous first-year cap charge. It only takes one team, however, so the Steelers will have to sit and wait to see if that one team exist this year.