Jason Worilds: The Ripple Effect for the Pittsburgh Steelers
Will he stay or will he go?
That is the question regarding free-agent linebacker Jason Worilds' future with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The team gave Worilds the franchise tag before the 2014 season, paying him $9.75 million for one year's labor. Worilds rebuffed offers for a long-term deal, instead opting to test the waters of free agency.
However, his snub may actually be a good thing. Worilds is this year's version of Keenan Lewis. At 26, he is entering the prime of his career. But like Lewis, Worilds waited until the final year of his contract to do anything worthy of a lucrative deal.
While many fans lament Lewis' departure and point to the Steelers' porous pass defense as evidence that the team made a mistake in letting him go, the jury is still out on whether it was an overall bad move. In fact, Pro Football Focus rated Lewis' performance last year No. 98 out of 108 graded cornerbacks. To give you some perspective, enigmatic Cortez Allen notched No. 103.
And the Steelers have been burned before with large contracts given to outside linebackers. Fans may recall Jason Gildon as one example. But LaMarr Woodley is the most recent case in point. He had a far greater body of work than Worilds when he got a large payday.
Afterward, Woodley's time at Burger King and in the trainer's room superseded his production on the field. The Steelers ultimately cut ties with him. However, the organization is still paying for that mistake, mainly to the tune of an $8.58 million cap hit in 2015.
That being said, the team might not have a choice but to sign Worilds. Arthur Moats is also a free agent, leaving Jarvis Jones as the only experienced outside linebacker under contract for next season. If Worilds and Moats depart, the Steelers will be in a world of hurt.
Complicating the situation even more is Ben Roethlisberger's next contract. He is undoubtedly the biggest asset to the team. Unfortunately, his contract will consume a lion's share of the cap.
Ideally, the Steelers want to keep both Worilds and Moats. Realistically, as well as economically, the only option may be to slightly overpay Moats and let Worilds walk, and then roll the dice in the draft. True, the numbers may come up snake eyes, but at least the team won't be stuck with a huge salary cap hit if Worilds develops Woodley's appetite and work ethic.
Right now, all scenarios are in play, some more costly than others. While an earlier resolution may happen, fans will likely have to wait until March 10, the start of the NFL's free agency period, for the chain reaction of events to unfold.