Will The Pittsburgh Steelers Flex Franchise Tag Muscle This Week?


Nov 10, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a pass to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (88) against the Buffalo Bills during the first half at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Historically speaking, the Pittsburgh Steelers have rarely ever used the NFL’s Franchise Tag to retain a player who is entering free agency.  As this week unfolds, and the tag becomes available to slap on free agents, will the Steelers use that option to keep one of their own on the roster for one more season?

Of the 21 free agents that are currently on the Steelers roster, there is really only one guy the team could (and might) consider using the franchise tag.  Emmanuel Sanders is pretty much on his way out, Jonathan Dwyer is too much of a part time back for the kind of money a franchise tag requires, and Jerricho Cotchery  (as money as he is in the red zone and other short yardage situations) would be too costly to use the tag for a #3 receiver.  Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel, and Ryan Clark aren’t really worth the pay bumps either.  So is there anyone that might be worth the tag?

Oct 13, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (11) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds (93) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

OLB Jason Worilds is hitting the free agent market as an unrestricted one, and the Steelers must decide if they are going to offer him a new deal or let him walk.  The third option would be to use the franchise tag on Worilds to the tune of $10,895,000 in guaranteed funds.  Worilds has said he wants to stay a Steeler and wants to sign a long term deal with the team…. under one condition…. he is THE starter.  The man wants to play, and can you blame him?  Worilds had an awesome second half of the season in 2013.  In the way that kind of made you forget about Tubby LaMarr.  Yet, I can see hesitancy from the front office in wanting to ink him a highly paid long term deal.  What if the second half of the season was a fluke?  The Steelers certainly want to avoid another LaMarr Woodley-like situation – signing a long term deal due to an explosive previous season, only to have that player suck it up for the next three seasons.  Costly and highly ineffective for a team that is always in cap trouble and cannot ‘afford’ mistakes like that.

The Steelers traditionally hold onto that franchise tag.  If they won’t exercise that right with the likes of Mike Wallace or even Keenan Lewis, then it’s difficult to expect them to use it on someone like Worilds, who enters a very similar situation that Lewis was in (very little impact, then a breakout year in the final year of the contract).  While it not make immediate sense, I could see the Steelers using the tag on Worilds to see how he performs for another year.  Can he keep up the performance?  It’s a rather high paid, one year, low risk situation as opposed to a high paid (but not as high as the tag), long term, high risk situation that could burn the Steelers if Worilds turns into as big a bust as Woodley did after his extension.

There is another price by placing a tag on Worilds that doesn’t involve money.  Tagging Worilds could royally tick him off because he would rather have a long term deal…. with anyone so long as he’s a starter.  If another team was willing to ink him to a long term deal, the franchise tag would keep him from cashing in.  The pressure would be on for another solid season, if not better, and he would have to be careful with injuries.  I don’t think the franchise tag would sit well with Worilds, but maybe the defense could use that chip and anger.  Or maybe it would spoil his fun.

I’m not saying it is going to happen, but I think it’s a strong possibility that the Steelers could tag Worilds for one year to see if he can keep the gas peddle down or if the last eight games of 2013 were an anomaly.  Dumping Woodley in June would help pay for that tag, and you can expect that the team will cut more vets and let others walk to finish that deal and pay for other FA signings that need to happen.

What do you all think?