The Pittsburgh Steelers applying the transition tag to outside linebacker Jason Worilds was a relatively surprising maneuver, but the fact that Worilds accepted the tag less than 24 hours later was perhaps just as surprising.
It’s difficult to speculate about his motivations in acting so promptly without knowing all the facts, but there are a few things that are more likely to be true than others.
Chances are, Worilds was well aware of the possibility of receiving either the franchise tag or the transition tag while his agent was holding conversations with Kevin Colbert, Omar Khan, and others. It’s equally likely that there were no concrete plans to use one of the tags until the last minute, reflected in the fact that it was applied at the deadline.
We can also safely speculate that Worilds is comfortable in Pittsburgh and in the Steelers’ system, having spent four years learning the nuances of the defense and finally emerging as a starter this past season. That in itself is certainly a motivating factor in getting on board with another year in Pittsburgh.
The application of the tag and the acceptance of the tag in quick succession also speaks to a mutual acknowledgement of Worilds’ status as a starter, which is something that was utmost in the 26-year-old’s concerns.
When you wait three seasons for your time only to see the team draft a player at your position in the first round, it seems to be a logical concern for a pending free agent to require some assurance of playing time.
But there is another side to the issue as well, the one that takes Worilds’ best interests into account—though I’m not convinced that it’s either a good thing or a bad thing for the Steelers now that they have exclusive bargaining rights.
Here are some fairly safe assumptions:
The Steelers want to see Worilds locked up to a long-term contract to provide stability to the position and to further clarify their draft board. They would also like to lower his 2014 cap hit if possible.
Worilds also wants a long-term contract because it provides financial, domestic, and geographical stability, and because it will come accompanied with a large chunk of guaranteed money that will set him up for the rest of his life as long as he’s responsible with it.
But if Worilds was so gung-ho on securing the long-term contract, then it’s hard to imagine how voluntarily taking himself off the open market was in his own self-interests.
Outside of the ability to continue his career where he started and the luxury of not having to relocate, it would seem that Worilds casts himself at a disadvantage by blocking out 31 other potential employers from bidding for his services.
One possible motivation could be insight into his potential market. Even though the ‘legal tampering’ period is still a few days away, the reason it’s known colloquially as such is because illegal tampering with free agents has been a part of contract negotiations for a long time. It reaches a fever pitch between the combine and the start of free agency.
Perhaps Worilds’ agent felt that, while several teams have expressed significant interest in his client, their interest may not represent as lucrative an opportunity as would be attainable from the Steelers, who’d just committed $10 million to him.
By accepting the transition tag so quickly, Worilds puts the ball back in his court by eliminating a potential free market devaluation for his services. Additionally, he can now use the transition tag price as the touchstone from which to begin bargaining to maximize the value he can attain from Pittsburgh’s front office.
This is of course all speculation on my part as to the motives of Worilds and his agent in acting so quickly on the transition tag, and should not be treated as fact. In the meantime, both parties are reportedly closing the gap on a long-term contract. Ideally, it will be a contract that contains a low first-year cap hit and is completed before the start of free agency to maximize the value of the cap savings.