Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds turned 25 today, and he might’ve been hoping to celebrate later this month with a big free-agent contract.
Instead, he’ll have to wait on that belated birthday gift, as the Steelers assigned the transition player label to Worilds on Monday afternoon.
Because of that designation, the Steelers have the right to match any contract offered to Worilds by another team this offseason. Worilds was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on March 11, but now his earnings potential has likely decreased, if only by a small percentage.
Per NFL bylaws, Worilds is guaranteed to receive the average of the top 10 existing contracts at his position. NFL.com reporter Jason La Canfora tweeted that the outside linebacker’s salary for 2014 will be at least $9.75 million. If another team makes an offer to Worilds and the Steelers refuse to match, they would receive no compensation.
A second-round draft pick in 2010, Worilds had three uneven seasons leading into last fall. However, the former Virginia Tech star erupted for eight sacks, 63 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2013 after taking on an enhanced role later in the year.
The last time an NFL team used the transition player designation to retain a player was in 2011, when the 49ers stuck it on kicker David Akers. In 2008, when the Steelers used it on offensive lineman Max Starks. The Bills joined the Steelers on Monday, employing the transition tag on center Alex Mack.
Worilds and the Steelers could still work out a long-term deal, but the transition tag has muddled relationships between players and teams in the past. This method isn’t as absolute as the franchise player designation, which locks in another year of club control automatically.
At any rate, Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert has a little more payroll certainty as free agency approaches next week.