The Steelers got some good news over the weekend when the NFL told its teams that the 2014 salary cap will be at $133 million, an increase of $10 million from 2013.
The Steelers, who are still slightly over that number, took advantage of the windfall by placing the transition tag on linebacker Jason Worilds, who will become an unrestricted free agent next Tuesday.
Worilds, who turned 26 on Monday, led the Steelers with eight sacks in 2013 despite splitting time early in the season with rookie first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones and starting just 11 games.
Worilds, a second-round pick of the Steelers in 2010, earned a base salary of just $630,000 in 2013. Under the terms of the transition tag, he will now earn $9.754 million in 2014 if the Steelers do not come to an agreement on a long-term deal that will lower that number.
By placing the transition tag on Worilds, whom the Steelers considered their top priority heading into free agency, Pittsburgh has the right to match any offer he might receive on the open market. If they choose not to match the offer, they would lose Worilds and receive no compensation.
The Steelers could have placed the franchise tag on Worilds at a cost of $11.455 million. That would have guaranteed two first round draft picks in return if Worilds signed elsewhere and the Steelers chose not to match.
The Steelers have one week to get under the league salary cap. With the addition of Worilds’ transition tag, the team is now about $15 million over with 21 players on the 2013 roster scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next week.
It can easily rid itself of $6.2 million of that by simply releasing offensive tackle Levi Brown, who was acquired for a conditional drft pick in a mid-season trade from Arizona. Brown never played a down for the Steelers after suffering an arm injury during warmups prior to a win over the Jets on Oct. 13.
Since Brown did not meet any of the playing conditions of the trade, the Steelers do not owe the Cardinals a draft pick.
The Steelers are reportedly close to a contract extension with tight end Heath Miller that will lower his cap hit for 2014 and are negotiating with others in order to do the same.
Miller, 31, is scheduled to have a base salary of $6.02 million in 2014 with a salary cap cost of $9.5 million in the final year of a deal he signed in 2009.
A simple extension with Miller, the team’s 2012 MVP, could trim as much as $2 million or more off the team’s 2014 cap figure while also keeping a player who is still very much in the team’s plans.
The Steelers also could work out similar deals with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and safety Troy Polamalu, among others, or do simple restructures with a young player who is early in his deal, such as wide receiver Antonio Brown, and see significant savings.
The Steelers also are expected to ask cornerback Ike Taylor to take a cut in pay from the $7 million in base salary he is due to make in 2014, the final year of his contract. If Taylor balks at such a move, he would then likely be released.
The Steelers made a similar move with linebacker James Harrison in 2013, and he chose to be released instead, signing with Cincinatti for less money than the Steelers were offering in a pay cut.
One move that won’t help the Steelers would be the release of linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who has a cap figure of $13.59 million, before June 1.
Releasing Woodley, who has missed 14 games with injuries in the past three seasons, would cost the Steelers an extra $580,000 against their cap in 2014 if done so before June 1. Releasing him after June 1 would save $8 million this season, pushing the remaining $5.6 million of his deal into 2015.