Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds has less than one year to show the weight room work has paid off.
Just one season to show his currently yearly salary, $9.75 million under the Steelers' transition tag, is commensurate with his value in each of the next four or five seasons. He's playing for a contract, and in doing that, he hopes his team can win games.
Worilds and the Steelers are both the rock and the hard place in which each are stuck. An ominous sign, perhaps, two of the team's beat writers were able to find different sources to both confirm and deny whether Worilds was even offered a contract. Few ways better describe a communication breakdown, or possible hostile negotiations.
It shouldn't be surprising, in a sense. Which Worilds is this? The Worilds who racked up seven sacks in his last eight games, notching 44 tackles in the process? Or is he the one who didn't get a sack in the team's first four games (all losses), getting eight tackles in that time?
The reality is, he's both. He can't ignore his general lack of production in the time he's been given over the last four seasons he's been with the team. The team also can't ignore the fruits of their labor with him over the last eight games.
Ultimately, whatever contract he allegedly declined, and whatever contract the Steelers allegedly didn't offer, the last, best offer the team will make him will only stand as the line of demarcation over whether they evaluated him properly or they missed the mark. It won't be until after the season - or perhaps around the midway point - whether they'll know if Worilds should have been locked up when they had the chance, or whether they wasted $9.75 million on a $2 million player.
If he gets a long-term deal when training camp begins July 25, it won't be surprising. It'll be equally non-shock-inspiring if he doesn't. It won't be a surprise if they slap him with the transition tag, becoming the first Steelers player since Max Starks to get hit with both tags in consecutive years. The long-term deal, if he plays well in 2014, will be more relieving than surprising; they may not get a chance to keep him if his final eight games look more like his 2014 year does.