Of all the free agency solutions available to the Steelers, no need is more pressing than an outside linebacker. At this point, any follower of the team should be well aware of the current situation, as Jarvis Jones was the only outside linebacker under contract until last week's signing of Shawn Lemon.
A survey of the landscape reveals that Jason Worilds is in the catbird seat.
The NFL Draft possesses a few nice options, with first round players like Bud Depree, Dante Fowler and Shaq Thompson all possessing raw, athletic prowess that make them attractive options. But the Steelers could find themselves waiting, as players such as Nate Orchard, Eli Harold or Markus Golden all make for great value picks in the second round, provided they fall that far.
Free agency looks even better as far as edge rushers go. The disruptive defensive force known as Justin Houston will likely be either franchise tagged or fetch a price on the open market far out of the Steelers limited price range. After Houston, players like Pharnell McPhee, Jabaal Sheard and Brian Orakpo all are set to command moderate attention on the open market. Jason Worilds, while not quite on Houston's level, could certainly be in the argument of next-best player among the remaining names.
Worilds is a talented linebacker, collecting 15.5 sacks over the last two seasons; his 7.5 this season tied with Cameron Heyward for the team lead. The front office and coaching staff have expressed belief in his talent, while Art Rooney II stated his desire to retain him. Worilds is only 26, and he's familiar with the defense, his surrounding cast and the coaching staff. Even if other players rank higher on the free agent board, the value to the Steelers of Worilds' knowledge of their system could give him the edge.
But the Steelers cap situation could be problematic for them in trying to sign Worilds. Extensions involving both Ben Roethlisberger and Heyward could create some cap room, but it's going to take some work. IWorilds is likely to command a yearly salary of $6-$8 million on the open market in a four- or five-year deal. A bidding war could push that number higher.
Among outside linebackers, only Clay Matthews and Tamba Hali make more than $10 million per season, but Worild's franchise tag number for 2014 of $9.754 million puts him solidly in that high-rent district. So whether the Steelers sign Worilds or someone else does, he is likely to continue to rank among the highest paid players at his position in the NFL.