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Pittsburgh Steelers' position outlook: Outside linebackers

2/19/2015

Under contract: Jarvis Jones, Jordan Zumwalt

Free agents: Jason Worilds, James Harrison, Arthur Moats

The good: Jones remains confident even though he has had a trying first two seasons, and Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert recently gave him a vote of confidence. Jones notched two sacks in two-plus games before dislocating his wrist and seemed to be on the right track. He will be motivated to get stronger and better during an offseason when there are again plenty of questions about what the Steelers have in their 2013 first-round draft pick.

The bad: There is so much uncertainty at the glamour position on the Steelers’ defense, even taking Jones out of the equation. Worilds has 15½ sacks over the last two seasons but the Steelers are unlikely to tag him for a second consecutive year. They might let Worilds test the open market before making a serious effort to sign the fifth-year veteran to a long-term contract. Harrison played well after coming out of retirement last season but the Steelers might be ready to move on from the five-time Pro Bowler. Even if they aren’t, Harrison turns 37 in May and could opt to retire for good or join former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in Tennessee.

The burning question: Will the Steelers make a serious play to retain Worilds or try to sign an outside linebacker in free agency? Worilds appears to have leverage because of the Steelers’ need at the position. But there could be more pass rushers on the open market than usual, adding to the intrigue of the Steelers' outside linebacker situation.

The money: Jones has a base salary of $1.196 million in 2015 and Zumwalt is slated to make $435,000 if he makes the team. The Steelers paid Worilds $9.754 million in 2014 after using the transition tag on him. They won’t pay that steep of a price again but they will have to offer security with a long-term contract at market value if they want Worilds to return to the Steelers. Whether the numbers work for both Worilds and the Steelers remain to be seen.

Draft priority: High. What the Steelers will look like at outside linebacker after free agency will determine how much of a priority the position is in the draft. Even if the Steelers bring back Worilds -- or sign an outside free agent -- and also retain Moats they have to add an outside linebacker in the draft.

He said it: “Before my injury I really think I was on the right path of having a good season. Not saying I was going to have a mind-blowing season because we don`t know. Coach Joey [Porter] really coached me up and [I] had some good things going and that injury just threw me back. It’s something that I couldn’t control. You’ve just got to deal with it.” -- Jones