The Steelers confirmed Tuesday that they will be keeping linebacker Jason Worilds for at least the 2014 season. Worilds accepted the $9.75 million transition deal they just proposed to him on Monday afternoon.
What that means for Jason Worilds is that he can no longer listen to offers from other teams because he is, technically, no longer a free agent. By designating Worilds, an unrestricted free agent, as the team’s transition player, Pittsburgh has the right of first refusal to match any offer sheet he may receive from another team. In this day and age of free agency, I am quite surprised that he didn’t test the free agent market before accepting the transition tag as so many other Steeler players have done in the past. It’s not only a binding one-year deal, it also is guaranteed.
The next steps for the Steelers will be restructuring current contracts to save salary-cap space in 2014, terminating veteran contracts, asking for pay cuts from players and working out contract extensions that can also free up space toward their 2014 salary cap. As of right now, they are approximately $10 million above where they need to be for salary-cap compliance by March 11th at 4pm. The choice of Jason Worilds seems to spell doom for LaMarr Woodley. Woodley counts $13.59 million against the salary cap right now, including an $8 million salary. He lost his position to Worilds in 2013 when they moved the young linebacker to Woodley’s spot on the left and moved Woodley to the right, where he never had played in the pros. Presumably, Worilds is the starting left outside linebacker. They drafted Jarvis Jones in 2013 to be their starting right outside linebacker.
That’s way too much to pay a backup, and one who has had injury problems the past three seasons. They can ask him to take a pay cut from that $8 million salary, and then it would be his choice. If they cut Woodley now, because of the cap rules, all his pro-rated bonus money would count now, which would be a little more than $14 million if they cut him now, but that would wipe him off their books for 2015 and 2016). If they cut him after June 1, he would count $5.6 million toward the cap this year (and still be on their books for 2015). Got all that!
The Steelers are trying to negotiate a contract extension with Heath Miller that would keep him a Steelers tight end until his retirement and also will lower his 2014 salary-cap hit of $9.5 million (which includes a $6 million salary).
Cornerback Ike Taylor contract situation also needs to be addressed before the deadline on Tuesday. Taylor is scheduled to make $7 million in this final year of his contract. He is not going to get that kind of money at this point of his career. The only option I see is to release him and save the $7 million. But the truth is that they have very little depth at cornerback with no considerable options in free agency at that position. A couple of scenarios would be to ask Ike Taylor to take $3 million in salary while decreasing their cap by $4 million. They could also spare $2 million more from their 2014 salary cap on executing an extension with Heath Miller. By my math, that would create $6 million in salary cap space.
They most likely will cut offensive tackle Levi Brown and his $6.25 million this season saving them $12.25 million, which would position them to be under the cap easily by Tuesday.
On the flipside, the Pittsburgh Steelers need to sign some players too, particularly on the defensive line like ends Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Al Woods. You can expect them to try to sign at least two of them with Ziggy Hood, in my opinion, as a must, even though, at times, he doesn’t fit in their scheme. Keisel can’t stay healthy and is 36 and Woods is a versatile player, but with limited experience and more or less is a backup. If they lose all three, that could be disastrous.
The Steelers only have one experienced running back under contract in Le’Veon Bell. He is a beast and can play all downs, but is only a sophomore and history has demonstrated in the NFL that you need a bevy of backs on the depth chart. Ideally, backs that can complement Le’Veon Bell. If the Steelers believe that Johnathan Dwyer has matured and can be accountable, then he would be a good candidate for the job as Le’Veon Bell’s backup. Dwyer returned from being waived by the Pittsburgh Steelers last August with a renewed enthusiasm and energy that was absent early in his career.
They need backup offensive linemen and with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders gone, they need to focus on veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Among the many other issues will be safety Troy Polamalu’s $8.25 million salary in his final year. Do they ask him to take a cut or extend his contract? Do they restructure or extend linebacker Lawrence Timmons’ contract, extend quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s deal and do something with wide receiver Antonio Brown’s.
The Steelers made one choice so far, but have so many more ahead them. It’s a good thing that most of this saga will end next week, or, at least, be a little clearer.