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Steelers' Worilds signs transition tag

| Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 1:09 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds talks with teammates during practice Sunday, July 28, 2013, at St. Vincent.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds lines up against the Jets on Sunday, Oct.. 13, 2013, at Metlife Stadium.

Jason Worilds' future with the Steelers is secure, if only for one more season. LaMarr Woodley's future became even more uncertain with the start of NFL free agency less than a week away.

A day after the Steelers surprisingly put a transition tag on Worilds, who had a breakthrough half-season in 2013, the outside linebacker made a similarly unexpected move Tuesday by agreeing to the $9.754 million offer, according to sources close to the situation.

Worilds was projected to be the most coveted pass-rushing linebacker once the free agent signing period begins next Tuesday — an estimated six to eight teams were believed to be interested, including the Eagles and Titans.

But Worilds passed up free agency to lock up the guaranteed $9.754 million. That salary, if not renegotiated, would make him the NFL's second-highest paid outside linebacker next season to Washington's Brian Orakpo ($11.455 million). Woodley is third at $8 million.

By signing the transition offer, Worilds immediately put pressure on the Steelers to sign him to a multiyear contract because the team has no intention of absorbing such a big cap hit in 2014.

Worilds also might believe his free-agent market value was diminished when the Steelers tendered him. Franchises often are reluctant to engage in extended contract talks that, in effect, set the market value for the team that has the right to match the offer, as the Steelers did.

Worilds' deal at least temporarily put the Steelers an estimated $15 million over the $133 million cap — and they're currently the only team over the cap, according to Spotrac. They must come into compliance by Tuesday, the official start of the 2014 NFL year.

To achieve that, they are expected to cut offensive tackle Levi Brown and his $6.5 million cap hit and rework the contracts of multiple players, including tight end Heath Miller and safety Troy Polamalu. Miller is currently one of a NFL-high eight Steelers players with cap charges above $8 million.

The Steelers could create a minimal amount of 2014 cap space — about $580,000 — by releasing Woodley, the former Pro Bowl linebacker who is coming off three injury-interrupted seasons in which he missed all or part of 20 games.

The downside to releasing Woodley, who turns 30 in November, is that the Steelers would benefit only marginally cap-wise because of his $14.17 million in accumulated dead money, which counts against the cap whether he is on the team or not. They would save $16.5 million in salary — $8 million this year and $8.5 million in 2015 — by cutting him.

Releasing Woodley, who is one of the NFL's best rushers when he is healthy, would leave the Steelers thin at a position where neither projected starter, Worilds nor 2013 first-rounder Jarvis Jones, has produced for a full season.

Worilds produced only marginally for 3 12 seasons until getting seven sacks in the final eight games last season.

Because of the Steelers' cap situation, cornerback Ike Taylor — coming off his worst season — also faces an uncertain future. He is set to make $7 million in 2014, but recent restructurings, including one in October, bumped his cap hit to an unwieldy $11.94 million and his dead money to $4.94 million.

“Hopefully I am back as a Steeler in 2014,” Taylor said Tuesday on his TribLive Radio show. “Time will tell. We will see. When you get around 33, 34, they always try to find a reason not to play you. ... I am in a situation where you can say my cap is high for a veteran guy.”

Taylor, who will be 34 in May, allowed 71 catches last season, the second-highest total in the league according to Pro Football Focus.

Sources with knowledge of Taylor's contract situation said the Steelers and the cornerback have yet to open negotiations.

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