On Sunday at the annual NFL owner’s meetings in Orlando, FL, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin spoke about outside linebacker Jason Worilds and how he is best suited to play on the left side, and how he’s happy with the way he’s progressed since they drafted him. While Worilds did have a career year in 2013, you have to wonder if the team has seen enough of him to have confidence in giving him a long-term deal.
Once the Steelers placed the $9.754 million transition tag on Worilds, they were essentially telling that he is worth that amount per year. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Virginia Tech product should fire his agent if a long-term deal this offseason doesn’t average out to $9 million more a season.
While Worilds did record eight sacks last season, his pass rush could still stand to improve some in addition to his ability to play the run. Let’s face it, he really only has one solid season underneath his belt heading into 2014.
Being as a long-term deal that averages $9 million a season would really only help clear $3-4 million in cap space this year, the Steelers might be wise to keep the carrot dangling out in front of the Virginia Tech product one more season before paying him big money.
The last time the Steelers used the transition tag was in 2008 when tackle Max Starks received it. Starks’ situation heading into 2008 was similar to that of Worilds this year as he only started four games in 2007 due to Marvel Smith being injured and that was after he lost the starting right tackle job to Willie Colon.
The Steelers kept Starks on the transition tag all of 2008 and he responded with his best season as a professional. The Steelers placed the franchise tag on him the following offseason and that ultimately led to a long-term deal being worked out later that summer.
The Steelers will be drafting another outside linebacker or two this coming May, so if they were keep Worilds on the transition tag this year, they can franchise him next year if he continues to progress. If he doesn’t, hopefully a young player they draft this year will be able to challenge for the starting job in 2015.
The Steelers didn’t do anything wrong when they franchised and ultimately worked out a long-term deal with LaMarr Woodley back in 2011 as he had proved himself over the course of his entire career. Where they did mess up with him, however, was when they restructured his contract in 2012 after the injury bug first bit him in 2011. They again restructured him last offseason and now their paying the price for it this year and next year in extra dead money as a result.
Thanks to his play last season, Worilds has earned the opportunity to prove that he can continue to hold down the starting left outside linebacker spot in 2014. He’s also earned $9.754 million for this season as a result of that. However, until he can do it multiple seasons the way his predecessor Woodley did, the Steelers might be best served to wait a year before giving him a long-term deal much like the Steelers did with Starks back in 2008.