PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Steelers have tagged linebacker Jason Worilds as their transition player, so what does that mean?
It means Worilds is rich.
He'll do no worse than $9,754,000 this season. That's sweet money for a guy who did very little until the second half of last season.
The Steelers are in a jam at outside linebacker, and it appears Worilds is their best option for 2014.
First-round draft pick Jarvis Jones is still learning. LaMarr Woodley is hurt too often to be effective.
That leaves Worilds, who looked like a profound waste of a second-round draft choice until the midway point of last season.
It takes time for players to learn the Steelers defensive system, and maybe it took that long for Worilds to figure things out. Maybe he got more of an opportunity and took advantage of it. Maybe he had more incentive with free agency approaching.
Whatever happened, he became a much better player, and the Steelers have rewarded that by potentially investing nearly $10 million in him.
Worilds could actually make more than that if another team chooses to top the Steelers' offer. In that case, he would either leave or the Steelers would have a chance to match any offer he gets.
The player wins, and wins big.
This is probably the first of several moves for the Steelers as NFL free agency approaches. They're apparently working to restructure tight end Heath Miller's contract to create some cap space.
Some players will probably be cut. Woodley is definitely on the bubble with this commitment to Worilds. Ike Taylor might be a victim of cap concerns and diminishing performance. Ryan Clark, who is facing free agency, is unlikely to be asked back.
The Steelers need to revamp their struggling defense, and this is just the first step.
Just wondering ...
It's a given that it takes time for new players to grasp the Steelers' defense.
Worilds didn't show much until last season, the same year that Cam Heyward emerged after struggling.
Is the defense too complicated for its own good?
If it's taking players two or three seasons to fully understand the system, the Steelers are suffering through too many unproductive games.
Making a change
One of the storylines of this Pirates' season will be Jordy Mercer's ability to handle the defensive responsibilities at shortstop.
The starting job pretty much changed hands last season, with Mercer taking over from Clint Barmes.
Barmes can't hit, but he makes the plays. The ideal situation would be to have a two-way player at every position. But if one skill is dominant over the other, defense is always the priority at shortstop.
Barmes is slotted as a utility player this year. The plan is to have Mercer start about 120 games.
That could change if he's not making the plays in the field.
Sidney Crosby has not brought his Olympic gold medal into the Penguins' locker room.
It would make a nice show-and-tell item, but Crosby recognizes that he has teammates from three other Olympic teams, and that coach Dan Bylsma coached the USA team which failed to win a medal.
Better to leave it at home.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org