Steelers need to keep Jason Worilds

PITTSBURGH -- Jason Worilds is soft-spoken and anything but the type to issue ultimatums.

But he has leverage following his breakout season in 2013 and impending free agency, and there is nothing unreasonable about the outside linebacker wanting assurances he has established himself as a starter before re-signing with the Steelers.

He was blocked from starting his first three seasons because of the presence of LaMarr Woodley and five-time Pro Bowler James Harrison. After the Steelers released Harrison when the two sides couldn't find common ground on a pay cut, they used the 17th overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft on Jarvis Jones.

Given all of this, it is understandable that Worilds wants clarity on where he stands before re-signing with the Steelers. He should get it in the form of the offer the Steelers extend to him during talks between the organization and Worilds' agents.

Those should start some time after the Super Bowl and will likely heat up at the NFL scouting combine in the latter part of February.

One thing that is clear: Worilds won't lack for suitors if he does test free agency.

Edge pass rushers are always coveted, and their value only increases as the NFL evolves into a pass-first league and elite quarterbacks assault the record books and put up video game-like numbers.

The choice the Steelers have to make between Worilds and Woodley isn't as simple as picking one or the other.

They wouldn't clear much cap room by cutting Woodley before June. Thus the Steelers would have to find a way to free up enough money to re-sign Worilds while also keeping Woodley's prohibitive contract on their books until after June 1.

And that is if the Steelers opt for Worilds over Woodley.

Take finances out of the equation and Worilds looks like the better long-term option at left outside linebacker.

Woodley, 29, hasn't been able to stay healthy since signing a six-year, $61.5 million in 2011, and the cumulative effect his injuries could have the seventh-year veteran on the down side of his career.

Worilds is three years younger and his best football appears to be ahead of him.

The Steelers made a mistake last year when they let a rising player in cornerback Keenan Lewis sign with the New Orleans Saints as an unrestricted free agent.

They should do everything they can to avoid making a similar miscalculation with Worilds.