The recent move by the Pittsburgh Steelers to transition tag linebacker Jason Worilds caught several people by surprise and you have to wonder if that move had been planned for several weeks, or if the offseason plan that general manager Kevin Colbert initially formulated was adjusted on the fly due to huge and seemingly unexpected increase of the 2014 salary cap number.
A little more than a year ago, the 2013 salary cap number of $123 million was announced and not soon after, the speculation started to mount that the 2014 number would be flat and maybe only slightly increase. As the year wore on, those projections remained pretty much unchanged until the middle of December when reports surfaced that the 2014 number could come in at around $126.3 million. Since December, it seemed like every few weeks the projected number increased by a few million until it was officially announced last week that the 2014 number would be a whopping $133 million, a $10 million increase over the previous year.
Just prior to the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, and even during it, Colbert and Steelers team president Art Rooney II were both asked about the circulating rumors that the 2014 cap number could come in much higher than the original projections a year ago, and both didn’t want to give them much credence. Both said they already had a plan in place that would ensure they would be well within compliance with the cap and Colbert went as far to say it was “doubtful” the team would use a tag of any kind on any of their soon-to-be unrestricted free agents.
If indeed both were telling the truth, you would have to think the plan in place included letting Worilds test free agency if they couldn’t get him signed to a long-term deal prior to the start of the new league year. In addition, the plan for all terminations, restructures and pre summer extensions also would have needed to have been completely mapped out a few weeks ago.
When asked just prior to the combine about the possibility of retaining both Worilds and fellow outside LaMarr Woodley for the 2014 season, Colbert boldly stated it was a feasible option. However, he did express his concerns about Woodley’s injury history in addition being as he has missed 14 games with various injuries since 2011. Was Colbert’s response about possibly being able to keep both linebackers just lip service to pacify the media, the fans and both linebackers? It’s very possible.
Assuming the Steelers have stuck mainly to their offseason plan for several weeks now, do you think the decision to transition tag Worilds was made over the course of the last week, because of the $10 million increase in the salary cap over last year? It’s kind of funny how that $10 million barely covered the $9.754 million tag price. It’s too bad we’ll likely never know the answer to that question, but what if the decision to make that move was in the plans only if the cap number came in higher than projected? That same plan would have likely had to include the possibility of keeping Woodley as well, right?
It takes time to get restructures and extensions laid out and ready to execute, and while many of you might think otherwise, Colbert and company don’t fly by the seat of their pants. The offseason puzzle, as Rooney pointed out during an interview at the combine, has pieces that can change from one day to the next and because of that, he said the team always needs to keep their eyes and options open. In other words, even well laid out plans might need some adjusting.
So what am I trying to allude to, here? While the general consensus seems to be that Woodley will be dumped now that Worilds is back in the fold, I am kind of wondering now if the Steelers might very well have plans to the contrary and especially if they are able to work out an extension with their recently tagged linebacker fairly quickly.
As I pointed out earlier this morning, dumping Woodley would leave the Steelers with a second-year linebacker on one side that registered all of one sack during his rookie season and another linebacker on the other side that really only has a stretch of 10 good games to hang his helmet on since he was drafted. Should Woodley be jettisoned, both of those players would be backed up by a fourth-year linebacker in Chris Carter, who has shown virtually nothing in his limited playing time since being drafted. Are you comfortably with that? Is Colbert?
When you really think about it, outside of giving Woodley a courtesy release prior to June 1st, what do the Steelers really gain by releasing him prior to then? Sure, they’d wipe out the $8.58 million dead money charge in 2015 by doing the deed now as opposed to later in the summer, but what if Worilds or Jones were to fall down a flight a stairs and tear up a knee before then? I know that’s extreme and over the top, and I also know that those kind of things could just as easily happen on June 2nd as well, but I think you get my point.
At the very least, the Steelers should keep Woodley under contract until after the draft, which takes place nearly a full month before the June 1st line in the sand. It would also give them an opportunity to see how dedicated he was to his offseason program. Colbert sent him a message through the media a few weeks ago, so let’s see if he got it. Keeping him until then will not affect what the Steelers do or don’t do during free agency one bit, unless, of course, he takes a pay cut.
The Steelers might very well wind up cutting Woodley at some point before June 1st, but if they ultimately decide to keep him, you can bet that Colbert will say that was the plan all along. He will also remind us that he said back February that keeping both Woodley and Worilds was a feasible option.