The Pittsburgh Steelers surprised several people on Monday when then used the transition tag on linebacker Jason Worilds, but now many of those same people are wondering why they didn’t just go all the way and use the franchise tag on him instead.
I wish I had some poorly written good reasons as to why they didn’t use the franchise tag instead of the archaic transition tag, but being as I don’t, I can only offer up some poorly written speculation as to why they chose one over the other.
For starters, players have been known to really despise the franchise tag because they know for a fact the chances of another team giving up two first-round draft picks in order to sign them are nearly nil. In other words, they miss out on free agency and potentially a long-term deal that could set them and their family up for life. While the franchise tag amounts are nothing to sneeze about, it’s still only a one-year deal and brings with it no long-term security. This can in turn lead to a player being disgruntled with the team that franchised him and could possibly hurt in future contract talks.
In the case of Worilds, by placing the transition tag on him, the Steelers allow him the chance to test the free agency to find out his true market value. Should a team sign him to an offer sheet, the Steelers have the opportunity to match it. If there’s a team willing to pay more than what the Steelers already have deemed as his fair market value, they simply let him ride off into the sunset.
Let’s face it, Worilds shouldn’t have any issues right now with the Steelers transition tagging him and should he not find a team willing to pay more than $8-$9 million a season to sign him, he and his agent should be a lot easier to deal with when it comes time to work out an extension over the summer.
The above reason sure sounds too easy, so let’s look at a few more benefits of using the transition tag, if such benefits truly exist.
The transition tag comes with a well defined signing period that runs from March 22 to July 22. In other words, the Steelers will know for sure whether or not Worilds will be with them in 2014 by no later than the start of training camp. If no offer sheet has been signed by Worilds by then, he has absolutely no reason to hold out and the two sides will at that point have all of training camp and the preseason to work on getting a long-term deal hammered out. That deal would hopefully be around the perceived value the Steelers had on Worilds prior to them placing the transition tag on him.
Here is another thing to consider. While the franchise tag would have only cost the Steelers $1.701 million more, that’s another $1.701 million of cap space that could be used elsewhere on the roster should Worilds have to play under a one-year deal. That might not sound like a lot, but as close as the Steelers like to run up against the cap, it could cost them one of their other unrestricted free agents they had hoped to re-sign. In addition, when moving forward with extension talks, that’s $1.701 million more old money that Worilds’ agent will use in attempting to get more new money.
On top of everything else I have already written above, the Steelers were able to use the transition tag because they still have LaMarr Woodley under contract as a fallback option. If Worilds hits the free agency lottery and is allowed to leave, they simply will move on with Woodley and hope that he can put his injury problems behind him for at least one season. In the meantime, they will draft another outside linebacker in May and hope they can get him up to speed quickly.
So, is the decision to transition tag Worilds a huge gamble and wise a decision? I think we will have to wait a little while before we can answer that question. However, in the meantime, the Steelers now ultimately get to decide whether or not Worilds leaves Pittsburgh and that’s an option they wouldn’t have had had they let just let him test free agency completely untagged.