Jason Worilds And Brandon Graham Could Be Headed To Opposite Ends Of PA

Last offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ brass slapped the transition tag on outside linebacker Jason Worilds, and the return they got for their $9.754 million investment was a modest 7.5 sacks. With the start of the frenzy known as free agency still over a month away, GM Kevin Colbert isn’t tipping his hand just yet, but did say they haven’t completely ruled out using that same tag on Worilds again.

“I don’t think you’ve seen the best of him, either, as a Steeler or as a potential player for someone else’s team,” Colbert stated. “He is definitely someone that we will consider keeping. We will see where the market goes.”

Although silly to think the team would pay even MORE money for seemingly average play from Worilds, the front office is in somewhat of a dilemma, being that Jarvis Jones is the only other outside linebacker signed through the 2015 season. Colbert did add though that the team’s use of the tag really isn’t their favorite thing to do. In a way, Worilds kind of has the team by the throat, seemingly forcing their hand into letting an accustomed player in their system walk out the door, while being left with a relative unknown in Jones and possibly bring back James Harrison for another year. Or, the team could dip their toes once again into the free agency pool, and they could find a logical replacement by looking right up the Interstate.

Worilds did it last year, along with the Vikings’ Everson Griffin. Every year across the NFL landscape, we see players in contract years parlay their play that year into a nice, fat paycheck. Brandon Graham of the Eagles is the latest example, last season demonstrating why he’s deserving of such. Despite not even starting for the team, the talented former-first rounder out of Michigan was a menace, leading all NFL defensive players in Pro Football Focus’ pass rushing statistics. Basically, “PFF” grades players, over not only the course of games, but on an individual play-by-play basis, and well they execute their roles. The pass rushing formula is a mixture of sacks, hit and hurries versus attempts rushing the passer. Graham recorded 51 pressures on only 225 pass rush snaps, equaling out to about two pressures per every nine snaps. Despite being buried behind Pro Bowler Connor Barwin and Trent Cole on the depth chart, Graham exhibited why he’s finally deserving of such a hefty pay raise, posting 5 and a half sacks and tying for second in the league with four forced fumbles. But does he even want to return to Philly?

With Cole still performing at a high level despite his age, and Chip Kelly spending the team’s 2014 first rounder on Marcus Smith, who’s to say Graham would want to return in a situational role when it’s clear he has starter potential? His play last season doesn’t appear to be a flash in the pan either. Over the last three seasons, he is PFF’s top-rated edge rusher per 100 snaps. Graham is reportedly seeking a four-year contract worth $30 million, and the Steelers would be silly not to direct their attention to him, as they paid a full-time starter nearly $10 million last season alone.

Standing 6-foot-2, and weighing 265, he is identically “listed” the same stature as former-Steeler LaMarr Woodley, whose weight in the latter stages of his Steelers career was probably closer to 300. Despite his promising career being derailed by nagging injuries and an inability to control his weight and conditioning habits, he was a Pro Bowl force early on.  Although it’s been noted before that Graham prefers playing with his hand in the dirt, he showed the last few seasons he’s more than capable of playing in a 3-4. It should be of particular interest to him that strictly playing in a 3-4 wouldn’t necessarily be the case, with Keith Butler giving whispers of more hybrid looks this upcoming season. At his weight, Graham can more than hold his own against the run, and the following video of him bench pressing 500 pounds for 4 reps is a sampling of his monster strength.

Interestingly enough, just last offseason, the Eagles showed  an affinity for Worilds, and the feeling was mutual before the Steelers placed the tag on him.  Perhaps this offseason the two will tango again, and a signing may come to fruition. Regardless, both Worilds and Graham both are in great positions as two of the premier defenders available this offseason. It will be interesting to see how the situation plays out, but with their dire cap space, it’s certain the Steelers won’t again break the bank for mediocre play from Worilds, unless the team truly is convinced his best play has yet to come. However, with a tag number in excess of $11 million or more, Worilds may have played his last down in the black and gold.  Graham, only 26, could be a cheaper, but more productive and disruptive solution, finally getting a chance to show what he could do with a starting role. Before any of that, there is work to do regarding the team’s cap space, beginning with an extension for #7.

“I don’t think we’ll have to do as much work to get in compliance with the cap as maybe we have previously,” Colbert said. “I think we’ll be in a manageable area.” If so, Graham should definitely be on the team’s radar, and a signing would maybe signal a first for the team since 1997-drafting a corner in round 1.

  • Steve

    I would definately swap players. Maybe we haven’t seen the best of Worilds, but maybe Graham is starting to show his best and needs to be a full time starter. Graham comes cheaper and fits the bill for olb. Bring him in and let worilds walk with more expensive papers

  • Zachary Wise

    I keep telling myself, there’s no way we tag Worilds for $11-12 million, or at least I’m hoping we don’t. However, we already gave him $10 mil last season. Couple that with that absurd, undeserving amounts we gave to Cortez and Gilbert, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we did tag him again. With that being said, I really hope we go after Graham, or everyone’s favorite, McPhee. Both of them are big-bodied, so they should be able to hold up against the run, and did well in limited roles this past season. I’ve seen a lot of people liking Sheard from CLE as well. I just don’t see it with him. I really hope we don’t go that direction.

  • Reno

    I would love for this to happen. Can we make the switch right now. Graham seems like he might be the best fit in terms of dollars and production. I get tired of hearing the excuses for Worilds. He played next to Thomas. He dropped into coverage more. The asked him to do other things. The bottom line is he did not live up to a 10 million dollar 1 year tag and can’t be trusted to live up to a long term deal with more guaranteed money.

  • steeltown

    $7.5MIL per is Graham’s asking price? That’s probably equal to the amount that they’re offering Worilds, if not more. I’d be ok with it I guess considering Graham has done more with less, but that’s still a high price tag for an unknown.

  • NW86

    If the reasoning behind the Eagles not keeping Graham is because they already have Barwin, Cole, and Smith, then wouldn’t that same reason tell you they really don’t need to go after Worilds?
    As for Graham, I understand he’s a good pass rusher coming off the bench, but can he stay that strong for 65 snaps? Also, there is more to playing OLB than getting to the QB. How good is he vs. the run? What about covering a screen out in the flat?

  • Brian Miller

    I have been talking about this too, would love to switch OLBs. My wife is a diehard eagles fan so I have watched him closely since he was drafted. Remember, he has also played through about 4 different defensive coordinators too, so stability will also help.

  • Brian Miller

    I don’t think he is an unknown. Philly has asked him to change his playstyle several times since being drafted and he always performs. He has had a few minor injuried, but not on the level of Worilds IMO. I think he would be a great fit and probably come cheaper.

  • steeltown

    Exactly, unless they are thinking of going younger with Cole being 32yrs I dont really see them breaking the bank for Worilds… or unless they feel they made a mistake drafting M.Smith…

  • 1averagejoe

    I think you are right. No way they tag him at that price when it appears that they could get a guy like Graham at 6-8 mil over say 3 yrs. Both JW and Graham are mid-level guys. Some team with a lot of cap space will probably grab a tier one level guy like Houston. JW may have to take a pay cut this year to stay with the Steelers and I doubt he will do that. Also are a few guys out there they could get on the cheap as rotational players.

    How many vet’s are we going to say goodbye to to free up cap cash then sign current guys like Moats and Mitchell? Maybe then they bring in one or two guys like Graham or maybe a Cromartie.

  • BBrawler

    I just don’t see all the affection with Worilds. He will be 27 in March and he never had double digits sack season. His last year, he had only one sack beating a tackle. I would not pay him more than 5 mil a year. He already got overpaid last year, will they make the same mistake again?!?!?

  • Hypo Cycloid

    Well this article sold me on Graham. He has the potential to be a premier pass rusher in this league and if he will sign for 8 or 9 mil a year, then I think it is worth the risk. His size and strength are ideal, and he was highly productive when used. We need that. He could be the steal of FA.

    If he goes elsewhere, then the Steelers might be forced to overpay Worilds again via the transition tag, but it would only be a couple mil more than last year. With the cap going up and hopefully a lot of savings with reworking/extending Ben’s contract, it shouldn’t hurt too bad and at least we have a player at that position.

  • treeher

    I’m happy with either one as long as we don’t break the bank with either one.

  • johnhoien

    This would be outstanding…tantalizing to think Philly would let him walk,

  • Weiss Chad

    M smith has yet to even make an assisted tackle.Makes Jarvis jones look like Lawrence taylor

  • GoSteelerz

    Sometimes these rather unheralded signings end up being key components to building a championship team. Looks like Graham’s arrow is pointing way up, and he comes reasonably priced, especially compared to Worilds. I know everyone seems to like McPhee (myself included) but we may not be able to get him, so having other options is important. Graham looks like an ideal option besides McPhee, and I’d be happy to have him. It would also make our draft choices a bit different to meet some other glaring needs, particularly in the secondary.

  • Weiss Chad

    I just hope they don’t go into draft without starting olb on roster

  • steeltown

    I think he was only in for around 100 snaps all season, and half of those were on special teams, but yea you would think he’d atleast have made an assist..

  • You have to figure Graham is getting tired of switching D coordinators over the years, the stability here in Pittsburgh may be somewhat of a selling point for Graham if the Steelers are interested. I’ve heard all the excuses for Worilds and i’m not necessarily a detractor, I just dont see him as the impact player we’re looking for at this point. At least not for what he’s asking

  • Craig M

    Tagging Worlids, Cortez and Gilbert, I can’t figure it all out. And I liked Thomas- initially, now I would like to take him dear hunting.

  • Steel Your Face

    Deebo benches 135 lbs., with one arm. God willing and the creek don’t rise, I say he comes back.

  • solemnity SMF

    I know Graham will be better than worlds love to get him.

  • Orlysteel

    The team seems to be enamored with Worilds, This cat is going to cost less and has the best credentials as per pff of all defensive players as a pass rusher sign him Colbet before Newsome does he already snatched Dumerville.

  • ADH

    I was so hoping that Worilds would have a pro bowl year last year but he didn’t. I’m all for who ever at this point I just want some heat being placed on all QB’s who stand up against us. We need to draft a stud out side backer as well because it’s looking more and more that Jones is a bust unless he gets stronger. Just think back to the Linebackers we drafted that didn’t pane out from Bruce Davis, the other kid from Ohio state to the kid from Fresno state the list goes on. Since 2008 our drafting has been suspect at best.

  • Orlysteel

    If he comes back, he’s gonna take the comeback player award, make no mistake he could still bring. Need to land Graham though for the resurrection of Blitzburgh.

  • Melly

    I wouldn’t feel comfortable paying Graham $7.5million per. I don’t think he is worth that kind of money. I’ve watched A LOT of Bird games(only cuz I live in their TV area) over the years. This guy was a bum before playing well in 2014.

  • Melly

    I’d rather have Worilds vs Graham(if I had to choose). I think Graham is overrated…especially at a “reported” $7.5 million per yr!!!

  • Weiss Chad

    I believe it was closer to 180 but could be wrong

  • steelster

    Maybe Thomas will go dear hunting with you for Valentine’s day.

  • steelster

    Four forced fumbles is impressive. Sounds like graham has some upside while i don’t see worilds improving. Always take the player that’s improving.

  • steelersfan

    I’d be surprised if this happens- Steelers always trust in the guys they know over guys they don’t.

  • Melly

    not at 20mil guaranteed and $7.5million per! maybe at half those numbers. I think he is slow, and could have some weight issues down the road?! I’m a Michigan fan, too. I just think he is gonna be a bust!?

  • Josh Knepshield

    No, Graham is underrated. The guy has been a force in both the run and pass rushing game for the last 2 seasons. Worilds is good, but a bum compared to Graham.

  • Melly

    the guy had 15 tackles and 3 sacks in 2013. I understand his playing time may have been low(and theres a reason for that…he is not that good), but calling him a FORCE is ridiculous!!

  • Derrick Johnson

    Well if the Steelers not able to sign Jason Worilds back, then they should sign Brandon Graham.

  • Steve

    Both of these guys are average players and that is what they should be paid, average salary’s. Steelers were ripped off giving Worlds almost 10 million last year.

  • Toddy Bravo

    I’d be on board with signing Graham, but only at a much more modest contract than what Worilds is expected to get. Around $4-5 mil./yr for 4 years would be my limit. I realize Philly is a completely different system, but he’s not even starting. I have to assume there might be reasons for that. I’m not giving a guy a fat veteran starter’s contract with a bunch of guarantied money when he’s been struggling to get on the field for 2 years.

  • Josh Knepshield

    Way to gloss over the facts. In 2013, Brandon Graham rushed the passer 167 times. In those 167 attempts, he accrued 18 QB hurries, 6 QB hits, and those 3 sacks you mentioned. In 2014, he rushed the passer 240 times, and he accrued a ridiculous 40 QB hurries, 8 QB hits, and 7 sacks. That, added with his excellent work against the run, makes him a FORCE, and it is NOT ridiculous.

  • Melly

    Haha. I spoke w/ a few of my obnoxious Eagle fans and asked them what they thought about Graham!? All said “AVG at best!” U want to pay a guy around $7.5 million per yr for HURRIES…be my guest!!!!

  • Josh Knepshield

    What an idiotic comment. “You want to pay for constant disruption!??”—sarcasm mocking you as the idiot you seem to be.

  • Melly

    U obviously have issues. Go insult your dog or your ugly girlfriend!

  • Josh Knepshield

    I have issues? This coming from a guy who thinks hurrying the QB is unimportant. What an idiot.

  • Melly

    JJ Watt led the NFL w/ 32 hurries…Graham had 15. Graham had 5.5 sacks…not 7. Maybe u were high when u typed your numbers, or maybe you have a learning disability?? Needless to say, I’m glad U are not K.Colbert!!!

  • Melly

    I’m not giving a guy 20mil guaranteed to “hurry” the QB! I want sacks for that kind of money. Its the same reason we don’t want to pay Worilds 8-10million dollars for just 7 sacks! Go inflate more numbers to try and make yourself smart!! Next thing you know, u will say u(OR Graham) have an IQ above 250!

  • Josh Knepshield

    You have proven that you know nothing of the game of football. You call yourself a Steelers fan, yet you are ignoring what DC Dick LeBeau has said for years. Getting consistent pressure on the QB is more important than getting the sack. I don’t need to make myself sound smart, your idiocy does that by itself.