The Steelers told Jason Worilds he would be able to test the open market by becoming an unrestricted free agent, and the team did just that on Monday by refusing to place the franchise tag on the former second round pick from Virginia Tech.
While the move surprised no one, the allowance of Worilds to test free agency will likely spell the end of his tenure as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Interestingly, weeks ago many observers felt Worilds' departure was inevitable given the Steelers unfortunate cap situation, but the Steelers now sit nearly $10 million under next season's cap total, a number which will increase even further after forthcoming contract adjustments and roster cuts. That being said, it appears as if the Steelers have the money to spend on Worilds, a sentiment that seemed to be supported by GM Kevin Colbert last month at the NFL Combine.
Kaboly suggested an industry source disclosed Worilds could fetch upwards of $7 million a season on the open market, a reasonable total given the relatively deflated contracts afforded to outside linebackers. This $7 million figure could potentially move even higher, since the remainder of free agent outside linebackers is fairly gaunt compared to the teams with both excess capital and a need for pass rushers.
Justin Houston was tagged, Jerry Hughes is reportedly in talks for an extension with the Bills and Greg Hardy's off the field issues will likely carry more baggage than some teams are willing to accept. Brandon Graham and Pernell McPhee produced great numbers, but weren't actually starters while Jabaal Sheard's numbers were no better than Worilds. These factors paint a picture that could possibly lead Worilds to being the most highly-touted pass rusher on the open market.
The Steelers certainly did well creating extra cap room, and future cuts and restructured deals will help as well, but whether that cap space was created specifically to retain Worilds, or for a greater cause, has yet to be determined.