Several weeks before the 2014 NFL Draft took place, I wrote about Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds and how the team might be best served to treat him the same way they treated former tackle Max Starks back in 2008. Now that the draft is behind us, I really think that might end up being the course of action.
For starters, I was pretty sure that the Steelers would at least themselves give some negotiating leverage with Worilds by drafting at least one outside linebacker. In fact, I was really hoping that they would draft two. However, when the smoke had cleared they didn’t even draft one at all. For you Jordan Zumwalt fans, I consider him an inside linebacker prospect until I see him attempt to play outside at the NFL level.
If Worilds and his agent are smart, they will attempt to use the Steelers lack of depth at the outside linebacker position as a reason to stand their ground during contract negotiations come training camp time. That’s assuming, of course, that there will be negotiations. As I mentioned back in March, Worilds is locked into making $9.754 million in 2014 thanks to him being given the transition tag. If the Steelers can lock him up for several years at an average yearly value of around $7.5 million per season or less, that would probably be fine for them, but I can’t see Worilds settling for that. $9.754 million will buy a lot of groceries for several years if managed correctly.
Has Worilds proved enough to deserve getting a multi-year deal that averages $9 million or more a season? I think most of you would probably say no. If that’s the case, and if Worilds isn’t willing to accept a lot less than his $9.754 million tag per season, the Steelers would probably be best served to keep the carrot dangling out in front of him the way they did with Starks in 2008.
Should Worilds wind up playing better than he did in 2013, the Steelers can just reboot the process all over again next offseason by placing the franchise tag on him. If he doesn’t play well in 2014, then they will have a very different big decision to make next offseason.
Sure, the Steelers possibly stand to gain a little salary cap space this offseason by signing Worilds to a long term deal, but by the looks of things, they’re going to have enough space to get extensions done with a few other players without that being a must. They’re not going to let what they want to get done with other players dictate what they do with Worilds and in reality, he doesn’t have any more leverage than he did before the draft thanks to the franchise tag.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has said in the past that when it comes to free agents, they get to ultimately decide who stays and who goes. That’s not going to change with Worilds just because they didn’t draft another outside linebacker.
Leverage with Worilds? Yes, the Steelers still have more of it.