Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds received a rare transition tag from the Steelers before free agency in 2013, effectively blocking the budding pass rusher from entering free agency.
It's not something the Steelers are against using again.
Steelers president Art Rooney II spoke to the media Wednesday, addressing a variety of topics, none of which bigger than the future of the team's outside linebacker position. Pittsburgh has only one experienced outside linebacker on its roster currently, Jarvis Jones. Worilds is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency, and considering Worilds has said the Philadelphia Eagles had the parameters of a deal worked out for him last season, it stands to reason the fifth-year player will garner attention from other teams this year as well.
Worilds also previously said the team used him as a "decoy" much of 2014, possibly inferring his pass rush production numbers were down because he wasn't asked to rush as often. Pro Football Focus showed Worilds rushed on 421 of 590 pass snaps, 71.2 percent of all pass rushing snaps he was in on. That figure is 23rd among the 29 top pass rushers in the NFL last season. His pass rushing productivity figure compiled by the site (combining sacks, quarterback hits and hurries) was 9.4, the 15th highest mark of those 29 players.
A franchise tag for a linebacker will likely cost around $12 million, up from the $11.455 million set in 2014. Worilds' transition tag was worth $9.75 million. If he is given the transition tag again, it would cost $11.7 million - 120 percent of his previous tag.
That brings into question the Steelers' current salary cap position. Heading into the offseason, the Steelers are essentially at the salary cap, combining the cap space carried over from 2014, and working off an estimated $140 million cap. Freeing up that much space, along with signing a draft class and adding any other players, would likely cause a bit of work. With an extension expected for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a small amount of space may be cleared up, but certainly not in the $12 million range.
A long-term deal would be much more cap-friendly, and with a new defensive coordinator, perhaps Worilds could be used more as a pass rusher. Rooney said Worilds had a good year, but overall, he noted the team's lack of pressure generated in 2014 on the quarterback.
With depleted depth at the position, and a general lack of production coming from the ones who appear to be leaving, what the Steelers do with their outside linebackers will likely be critical to any success they may have in 2015.