PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers, usually judicious with the designations that prevent a player from becoming an unrestricted free agent, are unlikely to use a franchise or transition tag for the third year in a row.
Jason Worilds, who had a breakout season in 2013, is the only candidate for a tag, but it looks as though the Steelers will try to re-sign the outside linebacker without the benefit of a safety net.
Monday is the first day teams can apply franchise and transition tags on players. For an explanation of tags and their ramifications, click here.
"They're always available to us," general manager Kevin Colbert said last week when asked if the Steelers will tag one of their players, "but I'd say doubtful."
The Steelers' precarious salary-cap situation -- Colbert acknowledged that the team has some "work to do" to get in compliance by March 11 -- is probably the biggest reason tags won't be in play for a third year in a row.
Using a franchise tag on Worilds would require the Steelers to offer the fourth-year veteran a one-year contract that should be at least $10 million (franchise tags for linebackers were $9.62 million last year).
The Steelers have used tags in the past with the goal of later re-signing that player to a long-term deal. They were successful in doing that three years ago with outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who received a franchise tag but later signed a six-year, $61.5 million contract.
The problem for a team that has to to get in compliance with the cap by the start of the NFL's new year and have the flexibility to sign their own free agents or others is that once a tagged player signs the one-year contract, the money is guaranteed.
More significant, it counts against the cap, and the Steelers do not have enough flexibility to absorb a $10 million hit -- or one that is not appreciably lower even if a transition tag is used -- without scrambling their finances and compromising their roster.
Worilds, who recorded 8.5 sacks in 2013 and supplanted Woodley at left outside linebacker late in the season, tops the list of Steelers unrestricted free agents the organization will try to re-sign.
The best-case scenario for the Steelers is to lock up Worilds before the free-agent signing period starts March 11. But it also looks as if they are prepared to gamble that they can still get a deal done even if Worilds hits the open market with no provisions for the Steelers to match any offer he receives.