Transition Tag Shows Steelers Are In Strong Position To Retain Jason Worilds

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was asked weeks ago whether or not the team had any intention of using either the franchise tag or the transition tag this offseason on any of their players, and at the time, it likely seemed even to Colbert somewhat of an absurd notion given the team’s salary cap problems.

The landscape changed overnight, however, when it was announced that the salary cap for the 2014 season would be a full $6.7 million more than originally anticipated, and exactly $10 million more than last season.

At the time he was asked the question, he said that the team didn’t plan on using either tag this offseason in a way that suggested the ‘probably not’ response was closer to ‘of course not’. Just a few weeks later, however, we have the answer in the affirmative after the team applied the rarely used transition tag to outside linebacker Jason Worilds.

Under the transition tag, Worilds will be signed to a one-year salary that is the average of the top 10 salaries at his position, which comes in at just under $10 million in this case, provided that another team does not work out a deal with him during free agency that the Steelers are unwilling or unable to match.

That, however, shouldn’t be too much of a concern. Even though it only takes one team to do something out of the ordinary, the transition tag should be enough for the Steelers to keep Worilds in Pittsburgh this season.

After all, the transition tag already allocates nearly $10 million in salary cap space for Worilds this season, provided that an extension is not worked out before the beginning of free agency in about a week.

You would have to think that if the Steelers are willing to tuck away that big a portion of their cap room on Worilds, then obviously they understand that’s a price they can and are willing to afford.

To put it quite simply, retaining Worilds was the number one priority in free agency for the Steelers this offseason. When the team president mentions one specific player by name out of 21 scheduled unrestricted free agents, you can take to the bank that they are very serious about retaining him.

That is why the Steelers were willing to create $10 million in cap space for him, which in theory could be lowered should the team work out an extension with him at some point between now and the start of the regular season.

They have already (presumably) given tight end Heath Miller an extension to lower his cap hit. Troy Polamalu is another candidate for an extension, while Antonio Brown and Lawrence Timmons will likely be restructured in addition to accommodate other offseason financial obligations. Then there is of course Ike Taylor’s contract, which will either be reduced by a few million dollars or terminated altogether.

Quite simply, the Steelers are likely prepared to do anything in their power that does not enter the realm of the absurd in order to retain Worilds, which could include accelerating the process of an extension with Ben Roethlisberger if necessary to create cap space to match a potential front-loaded contract by another team.

The transition tag does provide the team with certain advantages outside of simply giving them the right of first refusal. For one, it provides them with a safety net while allowing Worilds and his agent to establish his actual market value.

Additionally, the signing period for transition players is delayed by 11 days. The vast majority of the action in free agency, particularly the top-level action, occurs in the first few days of the process. A team must be willing to put a large part of their offseason plans on hold for nearly two weeks in order to make a run at Worilds, if that is their prerogative, and that’s a big risk to take if it doesn’t work out.

Given the difficulty of projecting his actual worth based on his career up to this point, it may be best to let Worilds play this season under the transition tag to see if the second half of the past year wasn’t a fluke.

If the Steelers don’t sign him to a long-term deal, they could be in no man’s land until nearly the start of training camp, as the signing period for a transition player extends into July. But if it came down to it, and the Steelers needed more cap space to match another team’s contract, they have the trump card of LaMarr Woodley’s contract, which they could terminate if they hadn’t already, and would create $8 million in space.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Nolrog

    The way I understand it, is that the transition money is now part of the cap they need to be compliant with by the new league year in a few weeks.With regards to Ike, the only way I could see them terminating his contract is if they are able to sign a good solid FA CB for a cheaper price. They have no one behind him to step in. Ike holds a lot of leverage in this situation.

  • srdan

    I like it.

    I don’t want to pay him 9 or 10 a year. But if we got rid of 56, I wouldnt mind paying him that. Again, it’s not ideal, but you have to pay that position.

    Plus, if 93 thinks that he needs to get 9-10 a year, and most teams are histant due to only seeing him perform at that level for 8 games, he can turn down any deal he gets, earn 10 mill, and prove he is worth being paid as a top 10 pass rusher in the league.

    If he plays the way he did last year, the FO has to pay!

  • srdan

    That is true. But keep in mind that what the steelers did is basically allocate the increase in cap space to this tag. Nothing really changed pertaining to the other players. They need to restructure and release others to make room for rookies and maybe a free agent.

    This is a well timed cap increase for a team like the steelers.

  • steeltown

    I don’t see Taylor going anywhere.. I truly think he takes a paycut and plays in 2014

  • Tom

    In regard to the moves that can or will be made to free up cap room….

    Why is Polamalu described as someone who is a candidate for an extension, rather than being a candidate for a pay cut? ( Ala Ike Taylor) While it certainly was nice to finally see him stay healthy in 2013, I don’t feel like his salary and cap hit are in line with his production. Nor do I think his recent injury history, missing 22 of 64 games in 2009-2012, can be ignored.

  • steeltown

    Yea I see this as a preemptive measure.. the $10MIL might be enough to scare some suitors away, then the Steelers can wait and let him play out the year and get a larger sample size or they can work out a long term deal this summer

  • mem359

    I was thinking that the delay in the signing period was probably a big reason to apply the tag. Let the crazy impatient GMs overspend in that first week, less chance someone will make an unreasonably high offer to JW when the wait period is over.

  • steeltown

    IMO there are a couple reasons, one is he’s only 32yrs old so a 1yr extension that lowers his ’14 cap is not really a big deal its not like we’re extending a 36yr old player, another reason is he stayed healthy all year, in fact I think he played every snap on Defense in ’13 and another aspect is, we have no depth at Safety

  • joed32

    Good point.

  • steeltown

    Indeed.. a lot of big spenders in the first 7-10days

  • Ahmad

    I had no idea the period to sign transitioned players started 11 days after the start of FA. Wow that will really keep a lot of teams out the race because otherwise they might miss out on other FAs as well.

  • srdan

    Because 43 made the probowl. Why do you cherry pick the years 2009 to 2012. Why not just say that over the last 4 years he played 53/64 games, or 82%.

    While not perfect, that is not bad.

  • srdan

    plus the FO already knows what teams are targeting him. They may see that someone is hording money and then they could target Worldis. Then Colbert and Khan can offer a contract shaped for that team not to be able to match before he gets on a plane to go visit them. Just put a bug into his ear.

    Like if the Colts want him. Put a big number into the third year knowing that htey will have to pay Andrew luck that year.

  • walter mason

    We can create 8 mil in cap space by cutting Woodley? Sounds like a good possibility should we be able to retain Worilds.

  • PA2AK

    Ike should be an easy candidate for a pay cut. He’s not an idiot, no matter how much he likes to goof around. He knows the business and Rooneys as well as anyone on the team.

  • Luke Shabro

    I’m confused by this because I thought it cost more against the cap to cut Woodley than it did to keep him. I’ve been a huge proponent of keeping Woodley because of that. If we can save that much by cutting Woodley why not do it? There has to be serious dead money implications.

  • Tom

    I referenced 2009-2012 because it is relevant to the discussion.
    His playing every snap in 2013 was great, though I would not classify his on the field performance as such. I feel that his Pro Bowl selection was more based on reputation than actual on the field performance. To some degree a “lifetime achievement” selection. I am not saying that he can’t play anymore, just that I do not believe his skills warrant a 10 million+ cap hit. I can count on one hand the safeties that I feel do warrant that kind of $$…..and unfortunately Troy isn’t on the list.

  • Steelers12328882

    Ok so I completely understand why the Steelers chose to transition instead of franchise Worids, but I have a question about removing the transition tag. Florio, over at PFT, suggests that, if Worilds doesn’t receive an offer from another team a few weeks into free agency, that the Steelers can rescind the tag and basically dump Worilds into the market after all the money has been spent. I don’t think for one minute that the Steelers would do this, obviously since retaining him is their #1 priority, but just wondering if it’s allowed. Just doesn’t seem like it’s fair. I would think once free agency starts that the tag can’t be removed.

  • srdan

    The way I understand it is that June 1st is the big date for that.

    Let’s say that woodley is owed 15mill in bonuses. If you cut him prior to that date, you owe him all 15 this year, which hits the cap. Post that date, you get to split it over two years (i believe). Which means that you get a cap hit of 7.5 consectuive years.

    But his slaray this year is 8 mill or so which you would save with a cut.

    When people say he would cost more to cut than keep its true if they cut him before june 1st. But post june 1st its not.

    Am I right guys? Thats the way I understand it

  • steeltown

    Right, June 1st designation splits the cost which equates to $8MIL extra cap room this year

  • srdan

    I agree, that he is not the MVP troy anymore, but saying that he made the probowl on this name is not true. I looked at his stats and compared them to any safety, including Byrd who just got a franchise tag and 43 compares better.

    I think what we saw in the first four games is not a represatation of our team or 43. And not to blame clark, but he backed troy more (better) in the past. This year that was nonexistent. I don’t think troy lost a step….yet. He makes plays on a defense that lacks playmakers. So when you say safeties worth ten mill, you have to look at the whole body. Troy is on a team that lacks depth at safety, and lacks what he is good at, playmaking.

    With all that said, I dont think the FO wants to pay him 10 mill either. So hence we expect an extension. And with his recent four years, and his commitment to his body, it’s hard to question.

    Keep in mind that 43 played last year at a weight close to his rookie weight. He lost bulk with good result. I would expect more of the same over the next two years.

    Ed reed and woodson got paid into their mid thirties and even later. Expect the same treatment for troy, even though it may not be from our team. He is every bit as special as those two, even more in my opinion.

  • SteelersDepot

    I would be pretty shocked if they did that.

  • NW86

    They could do that – only if Worilds hasn’t signed the tender. He could prevent that possibility by signing it.

  • Tom

    OK…you sold me on the merits of an extension. (If the numbers are right)

    Is it safe to assume that the extension years will be at less money? Not 10 million per year?

    How many years, and how much $$ are we taking about?