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Starkey: Where there's a Worilds ...

| Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, 9:48 p.m.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is sacked by the Steelers' Jason Worilds in the second quarter Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, in Baltimore.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is sacked by the Steelers' Jason Worilds in the second quarter Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, in Baltimore.

Jason Worilds, who could be a free agent after the season, smiled when asked if he's making himself some money with his recent rampage.

“We've got some weeks before I can even think about money,” Worilds said.

That was before the Ravens game, before Worilds went on another rampage. He's making himself some money, all right, a fact that has amateur capoligists everywhere scurrying to their spreadsheets.

They're claiming there's no way the Steelers can keep Worilds because of dead-money hits and restructured contracts and enough mathematical equations to make your head spin.

If that is true — if the Steelers have backed themselves into a financial corner so tight that it would prohibit them from keeping a burgeoning, 25-year-old playmaker — then shame on them. That would be two years in a row they'd lose a talented defender before his second contract. Not exactly the way to rebuild a dying defense.

I have to believe that where there's a Worilds, there's a way.

(Cue the panicked capologist): Oh, but they couldn't absorb LaMarr Woodley's dead money (around $14 million over the remainder of his deal) if they traded him or cut him. He's worth more dead than alive! They couldn't cut Ike Taylor (he just restructured!). Don't even think about cutting Troy Polamalu. Worilds matured too late. Don't blame the Steelers. There's nothing they can do!

Excuse me: Are we talking about a perennial Super Bowl contender here or a team that is about to finish a third straight season without a playoff win for the first time since 1998-2000?

Get creative. Eat dead money. Use the franchise tag. Cut fan favorites. Do whatever you have to do to get younger and, eventually, better on defense.

I regularly defended pushing money into the future in order to maintain a consistent 12-win team. I cannot defend the practice for a franchise that hasn't won a big game since 2010. The cycle has to stop somewhere.

This offseason would be an excellent time.

If that means eating 10 tons of dead money, break out the forks. If it means parting with more beloved vets, break out the tissues.

The offense should return with enough young talent to carry this team for once. The defense needs a financial rebuild.

The Steelers must learn from the Keenan Lewis debacle. After last season — after he said the Steelers declined to make him an offer — Lewis signed a modest five-year, $22 million contract with the Saints. He has become a shutdown star.

Woodley, meanwhile, turns 30 next season, and that often is the expiration date for Steelers outside linebackers. Jason Gildon and Greg Lloyd fell apart at 30. The Steelers jettisoned a declining Joey Porter at 30, and even though he rebounded with one more fabulous season in Miami, it was the right move.

James Harrison was an exception, but, like Worilds, he didn't have much tread on his tires from his early years.

Or maybe the Steelers can keep Woodley for one more season then trade him or cut him when it's more financially feasible. Maybe they can slap Worilds with an approximate $10 million franchise tag.

That might seem insane, but let me ask you: Is it more insane than having Ike Taylor tied to an $11 million cap hit?

Is it more insane than making no attempt to retain Keenan Lewis?

In the meantime, Worilds obviously should keep the left-side linebacker position even if Woodley Pipp returns from a calf injury. Woodley can move to the right. Jarvis Jones can go practice his pass-rush moves on the sidelines. Maybe he'll sack Bruce Gradkowski. He rarely gets near opposing quarterbacks.

Worilds says he feels much more comfortable on the left side, where he played defensive end at Virginia Tech (and where he also sees lesser tackles).

“It's completely different,” Worilds said. “I don't even know what to compare it to ... maybe driving in America to driving overseas.”

True, this is a small sampling of games. I want to see how the season plays out. Is this the real Worilds? Or is the injury-prone underachiever the real one?

That would be the risk. It's unfortunate for the Steelers, in a way, that Worilds appears to be approaching his potential so late.

It would be far more unfortunate if he realized it somewhere else.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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