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Future of the Steelers: Breaking down outside linebackers contracts over the next few seasons

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A large part of the Steelers' future at their most critical defensive position rests in Jason Worilds. There's risk (lack of historic proof he can back up his second half of 2013) and reward (immediate cap space and securing a starter for multiple years) in offering him an extension.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Discounting their 2014 draft picks and prospective undrafted players, the Pittsburgh Steelers have just 27 players signed past this season.

And six were selected during last year's NFL Draft.

PITTSBURGH -- No. 1 pick Jarvis Jones, who is expected to secure a starting outside linebacker spot this year, is among those six players signed through 2016. The Steelers have a club option for 2017 on Jones.

The club's other expected starting outside linebacker, Jason Worilds, signed a one-year agreement March 3 as a "transition'' player. By tagging Worilds that way, he gets $9,754,000 for one season. However, the Steelers now have time to sign him to an extension. That way, he doesn't count nearly $10 million toward the salary cap. The Steelers can reduce the yearly hit, but still give Worilds some money and a secure future.

Worilds resume has been limited in achievements until the second half of last season when a strong finish helped him secure 63 total tackles, including 43 solo, with eight sacks, one pass breakup and two forced fumbles in 15 games with 11 starts. In his previous three NFL seasons, Worilds played 42 total games with 10 starts. He tallied 10 sacks during those years, two pass breakups and one forced fumble. Those numbers aren't a good return for the Steelers' investment in Worilds as a second-round pick in 2010.

Worilds believed he was underused, not really given a chance to succeed, and that was the reason he underperformed during the early years of his career. He added that he finally got that chance last season, after James Harrison left in free agency and LaMarr Woodley was injured again. The Steelers selected Jones in the first round to hedge against Worilds' development, but Jones didn't pan out, either. So, Worilds got another shot, and it paid off.

Jones is set to make $800,705 this year and nearly $2 million with the signing bonus (more than $4.7 million total) spread over the four years at $1,177,818 each season. This is the year that Jones must take his game up a notch. The Steelers can't wait for him to do what Worilds did and perform in the final year. He is tremendously athletic, but Jones needed to get stronger and more into his playbook. It will be interesting to see how Jones looks when spring drills begin.

There are three other outside linebackers under contract. The most experienced in the group is Chris Carter, who has played in 29 games with four starts during three NFL seasons. He was a fifth-round pick in 2011 and has been a decent special teams player, but Carter has yet to make an impact in the club's base defense. His base salary this year is $645,000 and could eventually be re-signed for not much more if the Steelers want him.

Vic So'oto and Daniel Molls are the other two outside linebackers on the roster. So'oto is set to make $570,000 this year, while Molls is at $420,000. The two will be hard-pressed to make the final cut, because the Steelers are likely to select linebackers during the NFL Draft May 8-10 and certainly sign a couple undrafted free agents after that. Although So'oto and Molls have as good a chance to make the team as any of those do.