While the Pittsburgh Steelers have signed just three outside free agents in an offseason that hinted at the possibility of casting a larger net than normal—with only one of those free agents receiving a significant contract—it may be easy to lose sight of just how much the team has actually accomplished during this free agency period.
Part of that is due to how early the most important task was addressed during this process, which was retaining outside linebacker Jason Worilds.
Head coach Mike Tomlin reiterated yesterday how integral a part of the Steelers’ offseason plan it was to retain their budding pass rusher, a player that he firmly believes will continue to grow.
“Retaining Jason Worilds was important to us”, Tomlin said, stating the obvious about a player that is currently occupying nearly $10 million in salary cap room, a large contributor to the barely more than $2 million in space remaining.
There was no secret throughout the whole process that the Steelers envisioned Worilds as a part of their future, dating back to late in the season when the team moved LaMarr Woodley to the right side to accommodate Worilds.
The only marginal surprise is that the Steelers used the transition tag on him, and that was only because general manager Kevin Colbert previously stated that he found it unlikely that they would do so. The cap situation was much bleaker when he made that statement, before it rose by nearly $7 million.
There was nothing that the Steelers could do this offseason that would have been more beneficial in helping improve the 2014 roster than to hang on to their 2010 second-round outside linebacker.
Worilds was the most promising 3-4 pass rusher slated to hit the open market at a position that the Steelers were struggling to maximize, largely due to the injuries to Woodley and the rookie limitations of Jarvis Jones.
The minimal success of the pass rush last year put a greater burden on the secondary, and in turn contributed to the inability of the defense to help out the offense by winning the field position battle and turning the ball over.
The Steelers clearly believe that Worilds will be a big player and helping turn that around, and you can hardly blame them. Aside from the fact that they really don’t have much choice, there was a lot to be encouraged about in his performance last year.
With a full offseason to prepare as an entrenched starter and, perhaps, finally in the right spot, another leap in performance should be expected from the fifth-year veteran who will still be just 26 when the season starts.
It’s plain to see, then, just how significant a move this was in the Steelers’ plans, and should be the defining moment of the team’s 2014 offseason strategy.
So the next time somebody complains that the Steelers weren’t active enough in free agency, remind them that they spent $10 million before free agency began. There’s still some work left to be done, but the offseason is a marathon, not a sprint.