When Jason Worilds was hit with the transition tag at the start of March it was seen as a precursor to an expected long term extension by most fans. By placing the transition tag on him the Steelers reduced the amount they were guaranteed to pay him by about $2 million compared to the more commonly used franchise tag and it gave them right of first refusal should he receive a contract offer elsewhere while he shopped his services around the league.
Only unlike with the Cleveland Browns and Alex Mack that was never an issue.
Perhaps even more surprising than the Steelers breaking out the seldom used transition tag, less than 24 hours after they had tagged him, Worilds signed the offer sheet. Worilds rejected his opportunity to talk with other clubs despite reported interest from a number of teams, in particular the Philadelphia Eagles and signed the deal that will pay him a guaranteed $9.754 Million in 2014.
There can be no doubt the Steelers have made efforts to sign Worilds to a long term deal way before the start of free agency and beyond. It would be illogical to think with their cap issues the Steelers are happy to take up almost $10 million of it keeping one player but without a deal in place there wasn't much else they could do as the deadline rolled around to keep him off the free market.
The Steelers are not a team that has used the permitted tags very often. The last time the Steelers used the transition tag was on Max Starks in 2008. Despite all expectations of a new contract Starks played the year under the tag worth just under $7 million. In 2009 he was this time franchised tagged after they still had not reached agreement on a long term deal. Eventually in 2009, as training camp was starting he signed a $26.3 million, four-year contract that included a $10 million bonus.
In just two years Starks had banked $17 million in cash plus his base salary for 2009 pushing him over $20 million for two years work. If he had signed back in 2008 he would have banked around $16 million in that same time frame. The agents for Starks did their job for their client and it paid off handsomely.
With that history in mind the speed at which Worilds signed his deal should have set off alarm bells for fans and front office staff alike.
When Starks signed his tag it was clear he was not worth $7 million a year coming off a season where he had lost his starting job to Willie Colon after a number of years of average to poor play. An injury to Colon gave him his job back through the playoffs but he was not worth elite money.
Worilds is not worth elite money, his career history certainly supports that statement yet right now that is what he will be getting. He will be the fifth highest paid OLB in 2014.
There is little doubt the agent for Worilds had an idea of his market value and the tag the Steelers placed on him went beyond that, otherwise why would you sign so fast and not test the market to try and get a little bit more.
When Paul Kruger signed with the Browns last year many where shocked at the scale of his deal. He signed a five year $40.5 million deal with $13 million guaranteed and will take home $20 million in the first two years. His stats and career history in the four years before that were strikingly similar if not better than that of Worilds.
At $2.754 million more in 2014 that Kruger will earn, clearly Worilds is getting a great deal this year.
So all of this begs the question if you are Worilds why would you WANT to sign a new deal right now. It certainly wont pay you any more money. Any deal the Steelers offer will look to reduce his cap hit this year. They could look to make that up by offering a signing bonus in excess of the almost $10 million he is set to earn but if Worilds waits the season out he will be in position for a big signing bonus with a new deal next year and like Starks would be in position to bank far more money than he would get otherwise over the two years and beyond.
With a full year on tape as a starter Worilds could well expect a signing bonus in excess of $13 million as part of a new deal in 2015 and with his $9.754 million of 2014 he has just banked over $25 million plus with base salary in two years.
If he signs today with the Steelers he will not be taking home $25 million over the first two years of any deal.
The incentive suggested for Worilds signing a long term deal is that he may get injured and his career could be over. It does happen but when was the last time you remember it happening ? Who is the last high profile starter you can remember it happening to ? The chance of it happening is real but relatively unlikely.
Something like an ACL injury that drops his stock and raises concerns is possible. But not career ending. He is a young man and it is likely he feels somewhat invincible, as many seem to at that age in his profession.
If the Worilds camp have faith in his skills that he will be a dominant player, If they have faith that he will have a good year and if they have faith in his body and ability to remain healthy they will roll the dice against a possible injury and look to score big again next year as a free agent, rejecting any offer that doesn't blow them away.
While all of this is clear to the Worilds camp it would be naive to think the Steelers front office don't know all this too and a quick glance at the list of players the team has expressed interest in ahead of the draft suggests they have already started looking into plan B.
So far the position that has been invited for a pre-draft visit to Pittsburgh the most is outside linebacker with seven players linked so far. These players range from potential high first round picks to fourth round selections. For a team that spent a first round pick on one last year it certainly seem like they are expecting a need for another one soon and you don't draft for depth that high if you expect to have both current young starters locked up for the next 4 years or more.
When the draft is done there might be more clarity about the Steelers long term plans for Jason Worilds but it seems like a good idea to wait before rushing out to buy a No. 93 jersey.