Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds smiles on the sidelines during a game against the Bengals in Cincinnati on Dec. 7. Worilds spent five seasons with the Steelers, developing into one of the league's better young outside linebackers. Perched on the edge of a massive payday as a coveted free agent in a thin market, Worilds chose retirement instead.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jason Worilds has gone from having NFL teams pounding on his door, urging him to take their tens of millions of dollars to play for them, to perhaps literally knocking on doors to convert others to his religion.
He gave up football for faith.
Worilds, 27, abruptly announced his retirement early Wednesday morning on Twitter, and Steelers sources say they were told it is to devote his time to working for his religion, the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He informed the Steelers of his retirement in a phone call Tuesday, the day he became an unrestricted free agent and one of the top linebackers available for any team to sign. The Steelers were hoping to lure him back with a multiyear contract after they paid him nearly $10 million in 2014. His 7½ sacks tied for the team lead in 2014 from his outside linebacker position.
Worilds could no be reached for further comment, nor did his agents return phone calls.
The Steelers have no immediate plans to invite any free-agent outside linebackers for a visit to their facility as the available veteran free-agent pool has shrunk after the signings of others. They re-signed Arthur Moats to a three-year contract Monday and also have Jarvis Jones under contract, their only experienced players of any kind at outside linebacker. They also could bring back James Harrison later in the year.
No free-agent cornerbacks have been invited to visit, even though they lost Brice McCain when he signed a two-year contract Wednesday with the Miami Dolphins for a reported $5.5 million.
McCain started nine regular-season games and the Steelers’ loss to Baltimore in the playoffs, moving up after an injury to Ike Taylor and the ineffectiveness of Cortez Allen. The Steelers signed McCain to a one-year, minimum-wage deal after Houston cut him one year ago.
On offense, the Steelers will begin their search for a backup running back when DeAngelo Williams pays them a visit Friday.
Williams, 32, was released Tuesday by the Carolina Panthers. He spent his nine-year career with Carolina, rushing for 6,846 yards and a 4.8-yard average. He had 219 yards and a 3.5-yard average in 2014 that was limited to six games because of various injuries.
Steelers quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner was an assistant coach on offense at the University of Memphis when Williams played there from 2002-05. Carolina drafted him in the first round in 2006.
The Steelers not only are looking for a veteran halfback behind All-Pro Le’Veon Bell, but might need someone to start two games for them if Bell, as expected, is suspended by the NFL for his DUI conviction this past fall.
The Steelers also officially restructured the contract of center Maurkice Pouncey for 2015, which will open up nearly $4 million more in salary cap room for them this year. Pouncey does not give up anything; it merely is an accounting move.
Steelers sources told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that they believe Worilds, who became an unrestricted free agent Tuesday, is serious about walking away from football at the age of 27 and that there is no hidden agenda involved in his decision.
“We respect his decision to retire and thank him for his five years in Pittsburgh,” the team posted on its website. “We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
Had Worilds stayed with football, there was a good chance he might have signed as a free agent with another team. But had he signed a big contract elsewhere, the Steelers would have reaped a compensatory draft pick in 2016 for the loss, possibly in the third or fourth round. Now, they will get nothing.
Worilds turned down a chance to earn a contract that would have averaged $7 million-$8 million annually with guaranteed earnings of between $14 million and $16 million. Baltimore’s Pernell McPhee received a five-year, $40 million contract from Chicago with $16 million guaranteed, and Philadelphia re-signed Brandon Graham to a four-year, $26 million contract with $14 million guaranteed. Both are outside linebackers.
“I appreciate all of the interest from the organizations that have reached out to us the past few days,’’ Worilds wrote on Twitter early Wednesday morning. “With that being said, after much thought & consideration I have chosen to step away from football as I have opted to pursue other interests.
“I am especially grateful of the opportunity to play before some of the greatest fans in football today. Despite any concern and speculation that may ensue, I appreciate those that are respectful of my decision.”
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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