The Pittsburgh Steelers recently made several moves to free up some salary cap space before the start of free agency March 10. On Wednesday the club restructured the contracts of offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert and safety Mike Mitchell and saved $6.2 million in the process, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
But the Steelers could make waves for the move they’ve decided not to make. A source told ESPN that the team will not use the transition tag on fifth-year linebacker and soon-to-be free agent Jason Worilds.
Before free agency began last year, Pittsburgh used the transition tag on Worilds to tune of $9.754 million.
The transition tag is different than the franchise tag. NFL teams are allowed to place the transition tag on one player a year and it gives them the right to match another team’s offer. The franchise tag completely stops a player from hitting free agency for one year. Teams have until Monday to use either tag.
Considering the price and Worilds’ production last season, the Steelers’ decision is questionable. The 26-year-old was only fifth on team with 59 total tackles, but was tied for the team-lead with 7.5 sacks and provided five stuffs for a run defense that ranked sixth in the league.
Pittsburgh also has very few outside linebackers signed for the 2015 season, with Arthur Moats scheduled to hit the open market and all-time great and 36-year-old James Harrison as well.
The Steelers do have second-year pass rusher Jarvis Jones, and eight-year veteran Lawrence Timmons clogging up the middle, but rookie Ryan Shazier missed seven games due to injury last season.
However, there are several cheaper options Pittsburgh could explore in free agency other than Worilds.
Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston is the most prized linebacker in this year’s free agent class, and the Steelers are unlikely to pursue a player seeking a contract in the same ballpark as Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt’s six-year, $100 million deal.
But Pittsburgh could splurge a bit on a player like Seattle Seahawks linebacker and former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith or even steal Jabaal Sheard from the division rival Cleveland Browns. Another option could be the Philadelphia Eagles’ Brandon Graham, who was fourth on the team with 5.5 sacks last season.
The Post-Gazzette reported there’s a chance Pittsburgh has even more money to spend on free agency this offseason. The team’s reportedly engaged in contract extension negotiations with Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Rather than letting Roethlisberger hit free agency after next season, and instead signing him to an extension, Pittsburgh can save money on 2015’s cap by back loading the new deal.