In early March, the Pittsburgh Steelers used their transition tag on linebacker Jason Worilds in an effort to keep him on their defensive squad for at least one more season. It did not take Worilds long to agree to the offer, which guaranteed him 9.7 million dollars in 2014.
Three months later, news has spread that the team has offered him a multi-year deal, only for it to be declined. Soon after reports of the declined offer, it was reported by Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that “Worilds was not offered a contract by the Steelers and that there have been no talks between the two sides since Worilds agreed to the transition tag.”
While there are many who believe that the Steelers need to lock up Worilds as soon as possible, it is a good thing for the team that he did not agree to the contract that may or may not have been offered . You may be asking yourself, “Why would this be anywhere near good?” The answer is: Pittsburgh needs to take 2014 to determine if Worilds is worth being paid as a full time starter.
Doing so would basically be giving Worilds a ten million dollar audition, but the team needed to do something at the time to keep him from leaving in Free Agency. With the productive year that he had in 2013, it no doubt made Worilds attractive to many teams seeking a linebacker.
Steadily improving over the past four years, Worilds has been a prototypical product of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s style of grooming a player into starting material. Drafted in 2010, he played sparingly behind James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley until Harrison was released at the beginning of the 2013 season.
With the opportunity to become a starter placed before him, Worilds was expected to be the de facto replacement for Harrison, but when Pittsburgh selected Jarvis Jones as their first round draft pick that year it caused a rift in the linebacker corps that eventually would lead to Jones, very uncharacteristically, starting at the beginning of the season.
It didn’t take long for Jones to be benched in favor of Worilds, who showed his time in the system paid dividends. Worilds would go on to record eight quarterback sacks in 2013 – seven more than his counterpart. At the end of 2013 there was no question that he would be a starter for the Steelers heading into the future.
With the release of LaMarr Woodley at the beginning of free agency this year, Jones will no longer be a competitor, but a fellow starter on defense. This leaves Worilds unopposed for the top spot on the depth chart, and gives him ample opportunity to show Pittsburgh that he is worth a high paying contract.
2014 will offer a great challenge for Worilds, as well as the Steelers’ defense as a whole. They are scheduled to play five teams who made the postseason last year, and will have their mettle tested by the likes of Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Andrew Luck.
Ultimately the situation may arise where the Steelers cannot reach a contract agreement with Worilds. After Maurkice Pouncey was made the highest paid center in the NFL, (who, when healthy, has proven he is a vital piece of the Steelers offensive line), and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger yet to receive his own contract extension, there simply may not be enough money for the Steelers to retain everyone.
Sacrifices will more than likely have to be made in the future, but it is imperative that the Pittsburgh Steelers bide their time in signing Jason Worilds to a new contract. While it shows that they have faith in him to play a pivotal role on their team, taking a year to see how well he handles the demands of a starting role is paramount to the future of this defense.