Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have decided to place the transition tag on outside linebacker Jason Worilds, we can further break down the decision and look at the overall big picture of things with one week to go until the start of free agency.
First, the transition tag comes with a $9.754 million price tag and it gives the Steelers an opportunity to match any offer sheet that Worilds might sign during free agency. However, if the Steelers choose not to match an offer, they will not receive any compensation for losing him.
A transition tag could result in Worilds staying in Pittsburgh for at least another year unless another team were to either overpay the linebacker, or structure a contract offer sheet in a way that would make it tough for the Steelers to match. A team with a ton of cap space that really wants Worilds, for example, could include a first year roster bonus that would make his first year cap hit tough for the Steelers to match. That first year cap hit, however, would likely have to be bigger than $10 million as the Steelers seem prepared to absorb a one-year, $9.754 million hit already on Worilds. Teams normally like to strike quick during free agency and thus don’t want to miss the boat by waiting several days for another team to decide whether or not they can sign away a player.
The Steelers have use the transition tag in the past before it went out of style as tackle Max Starks was a recipient of a $6.895 million transition tag back in February of 2008. Starks did not sign an offer sheet with another team during the subsequent free agency signing period and played under that one-year deal as a result. Starks was then given the franchise tag in 2009 and ultimately signed a four-year contract later that June.
So does placing the transition tag on Worilds mean that LaMarr Woodley will be cut prior to the start of the new league year? Well, being as there is still an outside chance they could lose Worilds, the Steelers would be wise to keep Woodley until everything is sorted out. Keep in mind that until Worilds is locked up long-term, releasing Woodley could result in the team having neither of them in 2015.
So what does this do to the Steelers current salary cap situation? Well, heading into today they were still roughly $5.7 million over the $133 million number. When you add on the $9.754 million transition tender that Worilds has now received, that puts them roughly $15.454 million over. Now, we are still waiting to hear what happened to the contract of tight end Heath Miller as we don’t know yet whether or not it was an extension or a pay cut. I tend to think it was an extension, but we just don’t know the details at the time this post is being written.
The Steelers are still expected to release tackle Levi Brown over the course of the next week, so when and if that happens, that will clear $6.25 million in cap space. I also still expect the contract of wide receiver Antonio Brown to be restructured to clear up nearly $4 million more in cap space and at this point, linebacker Lawrence Timmons could be back in the picture to have his contract restructured again as well. The two combined would clear nearly $8 million in cap space if done to the full amounts.
In addition to the above, the Steelers still might extend the contract of safety Troy Polamalu to clear some cap space and if cornerback Ike Taylor does not agree to a base salary reduction of around $3 million or more, he could be cut as well. Cutting Taylor outright would clear $7 million in cap space, but would also leave the Steelers with only two experienced cornerbacks in Cortez Allen and William Gay.
On top of everything else, there’s still a chance the Steelers could extend quarterback Ben Roethlisberger between now and the start of the new league year, but Colbert seemed to make it sound like that might wait until later in the summer if it happens at all this offseason.
Needless to say, there will be a lot of news to report between now and the start of free agency.