Soon-to-be free agent Jason Worilds received the transition tag by the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday, a week before the start of free agency. Once Worilds signs it, the tag guarantees him a salary of at least $9.754 million for the 2014 season, which amounts to a $1.701 million saving compared to the franchise tag.
The transition tag gives the Steelers the right to match any offer Worilds may receive in free agency within five days of it being signed.
However, this does not guarantee that Worilds will remain with Pittsburgh after free agency starts, as the transition tag only guarantees that the Steelers have the right to match any contract Worilds may sign with another team. The Steelers would not receive any compensation if they refuse to match a deal.
The transition tag has not been used frequently in recent years after Steve Hutchinson was tagged in 2006 as a free agent with the Seahawks, only to sign a poison-pill contract with the Vikings which would have been fully-guaranteed if Seattle matched the 7-year/$49 million deal.
The deal was likely able to happen after Heath Miller agreed to re-do his deal and lower his cap hit, but the Steelers are now faced with the possibility of having LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds account for nearly 18% of their total salary cap while still needing to find a place for last year's first round pick Jarvis Jones to develop as a starter.
While the Steelers are not guaranteed to keep Worilds in the fold, if no team signs him to a deal and he returns to the Steelers, one has to assume that Woodley would be a June 1 cut, saving Pittsburgh $8 million on the cap in 2014 and transferring the cap hit to 2015. I cannot imagine Pittsburgh carrying Worilds and Woodley at those cap numbers.
If Worilds does sign elsewhere, his deal is unlikely to come close to an average annual value of $9.754 million. Paul Kruger's average annual contract value is $8.1 million/per for comparison. So, assuming Worilds signs a comparable deal in the range of 5 years, $40 million, the Steelers could match and still save money compared to the transition tag. If the Steelers are willing to pay Worilds nearly $10 million for 2014, I have to assume they would match a deal for less than $9 million when their cap situation will be even better in future seasons.