Best & Worst Contracts 2014: Pittsburgh Steelers

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We continue our look at the best and worst veteran contracts on each team with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Best Contract: Heath Miller

Heath MillerIt was very tempting to select the contract of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as the best on the Steelers. A true franchise quarterback making the market rate of six years ago presents an easy target, with only $23.7 million in cash due over the next two years combined. But, a few restructures have bloated the cap hits somewhat in these last years, though they still fall below what has become the going rate for even lesser quarterbacks since that time. And he’s likely looking at a new contract in line with that going rate no later than next off-season.

Mostly, though, it’s just not a very interesting pick. Heath Miller entered this off-season as one of six Steelers sporting a cap charge greater than $9 million, all of whom had to be considered strong candidates for contract adjustment of one sort or another to help Pittsburgh’s tight situation. Entering the final year of the big-money extension he signed in 2009, Miller stood to earn $6.02 million under that existing deal. Not only did he accept a two-year extension at a reduced rate—$4 million per year in new money, compared to $6.75 million per year under the previous deal—he took the deal while receiving no new money in 2014, nor guarantees beyond this season.

Miller played one of his least impressive pro seasons in 2013 as he recovered from an ACL tear suffered in late December of 2012. But as the 2013 season progressed, he rediscovered his rapport with Roethlisberger and cemented his importance to offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s designs. Even so hampered, Miller produced the 14th-most receiving yards by a tight end on fewer targets than any of the 13 players above him. Unlike many, Miller plays a true two-way game, a strong blocker in the Jason Witten mold with soft hands and an ability to get open, and serves as a quiet low-maintenance leader that every team could use.

The Steelers turned his slated $6.02 million base salary into a $1.02 million base, paying the remaining $5 million as a signing bonus over the two new years of the extension. At $4 million in base salary in each new season, Miller’s cap number now hovers around $6 million in all three years. There’s ample reason to believe that 2013 represented a speed bump on his return to form from injury, and at age 31, he stands a strong chance to play out the extension in its entirety as a valued and productive member of the team.

Worst Contract: Jason Worilds

Jason WorildsRush linebacker Jason Worilds enjoyed a good bit of opportunity over his first three years as injuries repeatedly struck the Steelers’ starters, but in those opportunities he produced very little. His few sacks mostly came when the defensive scheme left him uncovered, and he showed woefully little impact versus the run, especially compared to the stout duo of Harrison and Woodley.

Fortune smiled upon him, though, and presented his most extensive opportunity in his contract year of 2013, and he turned in what has handily been the best season of his young career. Moreover, he looked notably more effective on Woodley’s left side than he ever did filling in for Harrison on the right. Still, his performance fell well below the healthy standards of either of those two.

Needing to fill the void left by both of those far more accomplished linebackers, the Steelers elected to place the transition tag on Worilds prior to free agency this year. If you need any evidence how much more the $9.754 million tender offered than Worilds is actually worth, look no further than how quickly he signed it rather than exercise his right to shop himself to 31 other teams. His agent had ample time to feel out the market prior to free agency, and I see no chance that he jumped on the tender with anything like Paul Kruger’s inflated $8.1 million a year available elsewhere.

In my estimation, with just half of a pretty good season under his belt in four years, Worilds was looking at no more than $6.5 million per year on a long-term deal. Now with the leverage of the tender, he has limited incentive to take a reasonable deal, so they’ll likely have to overpay significantly if they want to retain him long-term. And if they don’t retain him long-term, they’ll have overpaid significantly for a single season from a player who has been mediocre at best to this point.

I often hear a sentiment that a one-year deal can’t be all that bad, as it only runs for that short term and offers an opportunity for a clean break. But how much overpayment is that really worth? A long-term deal may have required somewhat more guaranteed dollars, in the range of 150% to double the transition tag amount, but at least such a deal offers long-term upside. A one-year tender only protects against the very worst of possible outcomes: that the player performs so badly that the team wants to cut ties after just a year. In just about any other case, it will prove to have been considerably inferior.

2013’s Best and Worst Steelers Contracts:

2013 Best Contract: Ryan Clark (contract expired; signed with Redskins)

2013 Worst Contract: LaMarr Woodley (contract terminated; signed with Raiders)

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  • NW86

    Steelers fan here and I agree with your assessments. For a team that has been known to have salary cap problems the past few years, the fact that their “worst” contract is a 1-year transition tender is a good sign. They got rid of their 2 worst contracts by cutting Woodley and giving Ike Taylor a paycut this year and I think they are getting their house in order. It will be interesting to see who shows up on this list next year for them.

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