While there’s still the matter of completing a long-term contract, the Pittsburgh Steelers have made early progress on completing their top priority this offseason, which was to retain outside linebacker Jason Worilds.
They did so by applying the transition tag to him on Monday, which he accepted yesterday, guaranteeing his services for at least the 2014 season and exclusive bargaining rights to complete that long-term contract.
Knowing now that they have nearly $10 million worth of salary cap space wrapped up in retaining their promising young pass rusher, the Steelers now have a much clearer picture of what they have to work with heading into the free agency period.
They know that they still need to clear millions in salary cap space in addition to releasing tackle Levi Brown to accommodate Worilds’ contract, the process beginning with a renegotiation of tight end Heath Miller’s contract.
Up next on the books are likely restructures of the contracts of Antonio Brown and Lawrence Timmons, as well as approaching Ike Taylor about either taking a pay cut or having his contract terminated.
How much else they will have to do depends on how they feel they can perform in free agency. If they desire to bring in a lower mid-level free agent or two, perhaps they need to create extra space.
That is what they have to figure out between now and the start of the free agency period, which is preceded by a three-day window during which teams are permitted to negotiate contracts with agents.
It is during this period that the Steelers should be able to determine just how much they can get done if they intend to be active at all during the first wave of the free agency singing period, though that is largely reserved for the high-value free agents.
Some names that the Steelers could be looking to next include their reserves along the offensive and defensive lines, particularly Fernando Velasco, Guy Whimper, Cody Wallace, Ziggy Hood, Al Woods, and Brett Keisel.
As many as five, but hopefully at least four of these six players should be coming back to Pittsburgh next season, given the significant lack of depth along both lines that would exist without them on the roster.
Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery could well be perceived as the new top priority with Worilds committed to at least one more season. His 10-touchdown year helped ease the bleeding that was the result of a lack of production from Miller in the end zone.
Some of their other free agents that they could be looking at include Jonathan Dwyer, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Will Allen, and Stevenson Sylvester.
Many of these players, however, will face a slim market, and will most certainly have to wait their turn as teams address their top-end needs during the first week or more of the free agency period.
Thus, before worrying about some of the more interchangeable pieces from their roster, the Steelers could be turning their eye to what’s available from other teams. Free agent defensive backs like Louis Delmas, Rashean Mathis, Walter Thurmond, and Brandon Browner could raise their interests, among others, of course.
We have discussed the possibility of bringing in a player capable of handling the nose tackle position such as Paul Soliai or Red Bryant, which would free up Steve McLendon to play defensive end. Depth at both inside and outside linebacker could also stand to be addressed, as well as a punter.
In addition to taking into account what’s available on the free agent market, however, the Steelers must consider what they can acquire via the draft, such as depth at the skill positions on offense. Either way, we should begin seeing a flurry of activity beginning soon, as the team has over $15 million in cap space to clear in under a week.