Pittsburgh Steelers: Keith Butler
PHOENIX -- The Pittsburgh Steelers opted for change when they promoted linebackers coach Keith Butler to defensive coordinator to replace Dick LeBeau.
One thing that put coach Mike Tomlin at ease with the move is that it offered change but not upheaval.
And that's from an organizational, philosophical and even personal standpoint.
Tomlin and Butler have coached together in three different places. They first worked with each other in 1996, when Butler coached the linebackers and defensive ends at Memphis and Tomlin served as his graduate assistant.
"The nature of our relationship has changed over the years and I enjoy that," Tomlin said with a laugh while chatting with Pittsburgh reporters at the NFL owners meetings. "We have a great deal of comfort and continuity. Also I'm looking forward to the impact he can have of putting his spin on what we have been doing. I am excited about how that might make us different and more competitive as we move forward. Change isn't something that I fear. If you are trying to be the very best that you can be, you can't have that mentality."
Butler, at best, inherits a defense that is in transition. The more cynical view is that Butler has been handed a defense with more holes than a bad alibi.
Either way, he will try to mold a respectable unit that can complement an offense that could again be one of the best in the NFL.
Butler has said he won't fundamentally change the Steelers' approach to defense. But he will have his own ideas when it comes to shutting down the run and rushing the passer -- areas in which the Steelers have slipped the past two years as the defense has been too old in some places, but too callow in others.
When asked if the Steelers needed a new pair of eyes on the defense after 11 seasons of LeBeau as the coordinator, Tomlin said, "With change come some positive things. It also comes with some potential negative things. It is our job to potentially work to minimize the negative associated with change, and that's being on the same page and having an understanding of what we are trying to get done specifically and culturally. Some of the positives are that you are somewhat less known in terms of your personality or [what] your agenda may be."
LeBeau is one of the most innovative defensive minds in NFL history, but his signature zone blitzes may have lost the element of surprise, given how long he had run the defense in Pittsburgh.
Tomlin, however, said defensive shortcomings or breakdowns usually result from a lack of execution rather than an issue with scheme. That is generally true for teams across the board, he said.
"Just know that we have a great deal of love and respect for not only the man, but what he brought to us," Tomlin said of LeBeau, who is now running the Tennessee Titans' defense. "He moved on and we feel that we have a very capable man in Keith Butler."
Jarvis Jones returns at the position, and the Steelers really need the 2013 first-round draft pick to emerge in his third NFL season. Jones may have been on the verge of doing that in 2014 before dislocating his right wrist in the third game while sacking Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and forcing a fumble.
That injury pretty much cost Jones the rest of the season. It also provided the opening that Harrison took full advantage of after ditching retirement -- and has led to his return for another season.
Colbert said he expects an “open competition” between Jones and Harrison for the starting job at right outside linebacker though he added it is something that is ultimately coach Mike Tomlin’s call.
“Jarvis has to come in and he has to pick up where he left off before he injured his wrist because I really think he was playing very well at that point,” Colbert said at the NFL owners meetings. "But to have James there to spell him, push him and compete, we can’t help but benefit from having the two of them.”
Colbert said Jones has the capability of playing left outside linebacker where Arthur Moats is the starter for now.
But Jones, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, doesn’t have the size to play regular snaps on the strong side of the defense. It’s also hard to imagine the Steelers moving Jones from right outside linebacker even if Harrison beats him out for the starting job.
Harrison turns 37 next month and Colbert acknowledged that the Steelers will have to manage his playing time to maximize production from the five-time Pro Bowler.
“One, you know what he can do and you hope that he can still do it,” Colbert said of Harrison. “The other, you’ve seen flashes and you want to see more. I think it’s a comfort to know that if one fails you have a fallback. I know in James’ situation he is not going to come in and view himself anything else than starter-capable and that’s why he is who he is.”
The Steelers would love nothing more than for Jones to seize the starting job at right outside linebacker and force them to find ways to also get Harrison on the field. That is the ideal scenario at outside linebacker where Harrison, Jones and Moats are the only players on the roster with NFL experience.
“Whatever depth we add or whatever picks we add in the draft, it’s going to be a nice, competitive situation,” Colbert said of the Steelers’ outside linebackers. "And with coach [Keith] Butler coordinating the defense, there may be some different combinations and alignments that they use. That’s something we will have to wait and see.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers will have to search elsewhere for cornerback help.
The Steelers have signed only one free agent (running back DeAngelo Williams) and have only four cornerbacks on their roster with NFL experience.
Cornerback and outside linebackers remain the Steelers’ biggest needs and they had a large contingent at Missouri's pro day to get another look at one of the top pass-rushers in the draft.
Shane Ray, who projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, won SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors after notching 14.5 sacks last season. Ray is a sure-fire first-round pick but there are questions about whether the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder is more than just a speed rusher.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Ray as the ninth-best player in the draft but ESPN’s Todd McShay has dropped Ray to No. 15 in his draft rankings.
Ray ran on Thursday after skipping most of the drills at the NFL scouting combine last month because of a foot injury.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert, defensive coordinator Keith Butler, outside linebackers coach Joey Porter and pro scouting coordinator Brandon Hunt all attended Missouri pro day.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: My ESPN colleague Mike Triplett, who covers the Saints, reported that Lewis wants New Orleans to guarantee the rest of his contract. He is due base salaries of $5 million and $5.5 million in the final two years of the deal, and I can't see the Steelers guaranteeing those if they have interest in Lewis. If Lewis is willing to give up his demands, then re-acquiring him is something the Steelers should look into. But right now I think it is a long shot, at best, of him returning to Pittsburgh.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: The Steelers found their backup to Le'Veon Bell when they signed DeAngelo Williams to a two-year contract. I think they could still draft a running back, even with youngsters Dri Archer and Josh Harris also on the roster. It is a deep draft for running backs and they always seem to slip in the draft, so the value might be too great to pass on one in the fifth or sixth round. Landon Collins would be a logical long-term replacement for Troy Polamalu if the Steelers are not sold on Shamarko Thomas. If he is available at No. 22 overall, Collins will tempt the Steelers. But if they have a cornerback or outside linebacker close to or on par with Collins as far as a draft grade, I think they address one of those positions in the first round.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I don't think there will be any seismic shifts as far as how the Steelers play defense. Keith Butler is a 3-4 guy who spent more than a decade learning under Dick LeBeau. I'm sure he will make some changes and put his own imprint on the defense. The biggest change, as I have written before, is that Butler now has more of a say in the draft. He used to give his opinions on linebackers. Now he will offer his input on any defensive player the Steelers consider drafting.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I get the sense that they are very happy with the improvement he made in 2014 after playing sparingly as a rookie. And Markus Wheaton is only going to get better, given his work ethic and the confidence he gained after catching 53 passes for 644 yards and two touchdowns last season. I think Wheaton and Martavis Bryant will be interchangeable as No. 2 and No. 3 wide receivers next season, depending on the package the Steelers use. The Steelers have to feel very good about their top three wide receivers with those two and Antonio Brown. They need some depth at the position, but it is another strong draft for wide receivers and the Steelers will sign a wide receiver in free agency or re-sign Darrius Heyward-Bey.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: Jordan Cameron received a nice pay-day from the Miami Dolphins, though I'm a little surprised the $15 million deal wasn't for longer than two years. That is probably the Dolphins protecting themselves if Cameron has concussion issues in Miami. If he stays healthy, Cameron can hit the open market in two years while he is still in his 20s or sign a long-term deal with the Dolphins. I doubt the Steelers were involved with Cameron, given the money it would have taken to sign him. No word on Nate Washington, though I agree with you that it would make a lot of sense for the Steelers to bring him back to Pittsburgh as a No. 4 wide receiver if he agrees to a reduced role and his asking price isn't too high.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: He has certainly made the offseason interesting, and Eagles beat writers have probably lost part of their minds trying to keep up with all of the news coming out of Philadelphia. It is obviously too early to tell whether Kelly's roster makeover will be a success, but I will give him this: if he goes down in Philly, he will do so on his terms.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: The Steelers got their free agent - and a proven backup to Bell - when they signed Williams on Friday. I still think there is a good chance they also draft a running back. Consider that since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007, the Steelers have taken a running back in seven of eight drafts. The lone exception is 2007. That recent history and a draft that is strong at running back is why it wouldn't be a surprise if the Steelers addressed the position again this year. I wouldn't expect them to take one, however, before the fifth round, given their needs on defense.
@ScottBrown_ESPN Will they seek a back-up RB in f.a. or the draft?— Matty Icebucket (@pittsburghfan76) March 12, 2015
@ScottBrown_ESPN: He is scheduled to visit the Steelers on Monday, so that is a good sign if the team really wants to make a play for the fifth-year veteran. There aren't a lot of cornerbacks left on the open market, so it could be Robinson or bust unless the Steelers go bargain-shopping, as they did last year when they signed Brice McCain to a one-year, $795,000 contract.
@ScottBrown_ESPN Is Patrick Robinson a real possibility? We're mighty thin on CBs with Mccain gone.— Shai Landesman (@ShaiLandy) March 12, 2015
The Pittsburgh Steelers took another long look at defensive end Bud Dupree on Thursday at Kentucky's Pro Day.
Coach Mike Tomlin, defensive coordinator Keith Butler and outside linebackers coach Joey Porter all attended the Wildcats’ workout and had a chance to talk to Dupree afterward.
Dupree did not run the 40-yard dash, opting to stand with the time he posted last month at the NFL scouting combine.
Dupree stood out in Indianapolis, running the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds and recording a vertical leap of 42 inches.
Some of his shine from the combine has faded as Dupree is not listed among ESPN analyst Mel Kiper’s top 25 players in the draft or ESPN Todd McShay’s top 32.
ESPN lists Dupree as the fourth-best outside linebacker in the draft, behind Clemson’s Vic Beasley, Washington’s Shaq Thompson, and Virginia’s Eli Harold.
Outside linebacker is shaping up as the Steelers’ biggest need with the draft six weeks away.
They signed Arthur Moats to a three-year, $7.5 million contract, Monday but lost any possibility of re-signing Jason Worilds when he opted for early retirement.
The pool of pass-rushers in free agency has thinned considerably, and the Steelers have not been involved with the upper-tier outside linebackers.
They will almost surely draft an outside linebacker within the first three rounds, and the question they have to answer about Dupree is whether he is a better athlete than football player.
The 6-foot-4, 259-pounder has good size and dropped into pass coverage at Kentucky. Dupree recorded 7 ½ sacks last season and 23 ½ for his career. But there are questions about his instincts, and whether he plays with the kind of intensity that will be demanded at the next level.
The Steelers will do plenty of homework on Dupree, and it will be interesting to see when they bring him to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think the only way Troy Polamalu returns for another season is if he takes a significant pay cut -- and I'm not sure the eight-time Pro Bowler will be back even if he is amenable to a salary reduction. At some point the Steelers have to move on from aging players no matter how much they have meant to the organization. They did it in 2012 when they not only cut ties with Hines Ward, their all-time leading receiver, but also released linebacker James Farrior and defensive end Aaron Smith. It might be time with the Steelers making a change at defensive coordinator to fully commit to the youngsters on their roster. Of the three you asked about, I actually think Brett Keisel is the most likely to return. It won't surprise me, though, if none is back with the Steelers in 2015.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: It has to be an outside linebacker since Jason Worilds has almost certainly played his last down for the Steelers and the uncertainty at the position in general. The Steelers are not going to use a transition tag on Worlids and have no plans to negotiate with him before the start of free agency. They obviously think they can upgrade at his position and they better do so in free agency since it is too much of a risk to draft a plug-and-play pass rusher. Brandon Graham, Pernell McPhee, Brian Orakpo and Jabaal Sheard are among the outside linebackers headed for unrestricted free agency. To me, Graham is the most interesting one of the group as he is a former first-round pick who has been productive but hasn't received regular snaps because of scheme changes in Philadelphia as well as having other players ahead of him. Graham's combination of youth -- he only turns 27 in April -- and potential should have him on the Steelers' radar.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: He is well on his way to impacting games the way Mike Wallace did in Pittsburgh as a deep threat. Martavis Bryant caught five passes that covered at least 40 yards and three that netted at least 50 as a rookie. The fourth-round draft pick averaged 21.1 yards per catch -- compared to 19.4 yards for Wallace his rookie season in 2009. Bryant isn't as fast as Wallace but he is considerably taller and his combination of size and speed make him a unique talent. Coach Mike Tomlin used to call Wallace a "one-trick pony" as a way to motivate the latter to become a complete wide receiver. Here is what Tomlin said in January when asked if he ever applies that moniker to Bryant: "I am going to stop short of using [those] words, which are complete. I saw growth in him. And that growth came with snaps. I would imagine he is going to get more opportunities to grow with those snaps. The thing is, he has to continue to grow and have an open mind. He has to acknowledge that he doesn't have all the answers." Translation: Bryant better not think he has arrived just because he played so well after not dressing for the first six games of the season. I think Bryant has the desire and will to make a significant jump in his second season, and that would be huge for the Steelers.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I wouldn't expect major changes. The Steelers will still employ a 3-4 base defense -- and will still place a premium on making offenses one-dimensional by stuffing the run as well as getting after the quarterback. Keith Butler will put his own imprint on the defense and one thing he has said will be a top priority is creating more turnovers. Maybe he plans to make the Steelers more opportunistic by using different blitzes and coverages. Butler's biggest impact in his new role will take place behind closed doors. He will have a significant voice in what defensive players the Steelers signs as free agents and draft. As the linebackers coach he gave his opinion on players at the position he liked or didn't like. Now, Butler will do that with every position on defense.
@ScottBrown_ESPN I'm not sure there is a tight end worth taking No. 22 overall. The position wasn't highly regarded going into the NFL scouting combine and the tight ends did not collectively work out real well in Indianapolis. Minnesota's Maxx Williams is clearly the No. 1 tight end in the class -- I am counting Michigan's Devin Funchess as a wide receiver -- but he looks more like a late first-round or early second-round pick. The Steelers should try to move down if they want Williams but they have to find a trade partner to do that. I would not rule out the Steelers using their first-round pick on an offensive or defensive lineman, particularly the latter. It would not hurt the Steelers to add young talent to a group headed by defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. A big tackle who has the ability to disrupt and could also play defensive end doesn't sound bad at all to me if I am the Steelers. Oregon's Arik Armstead and Texas' Malcolm Brown fit that description and could be first-round targets if the Steelers don't take a defensive back or outside linebacker prospect with the 22nd overall pick.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: Brice McCain. The Steelers' best play, in my opinion, is to re-sign the player they know, the player who is only 28 years old and the player who is coming off a season in which he intercepted a career-high three passes. It isn't shaping up as a great year to find cornerbacks in free agency, which will only drive up the price for those who are regarded as the top available players at the position. Bring back McCain, maybe take a flyer on a low-risk signing like the Steelers did last year with McCain and target an outside linebacker in free agency who can start next season.
But that is more in Butler’s increased responsibilities and not in the Steelers’ fundamental approach to playing defense, general manager Kevin Colbert said earlier this week.
“The coaches will determine the X's and O's [but] I don’t anticipate a huge difference,” Colbert said.
Both Butler and team president Art Rooney II have said Pittsburgh won’t deviate much from what it did under LeBeau, the Steelers’ defensive coordinator from 2004-14. And Butler shares the same philosophy as LeBeau, whom he worked under for 11 of his 12 seasons with the Steelers.
That doesn’t mean Butler won’t get a chance to put his stamp on a defense that recorded just 33 sacks last season and allowed 4.36 yards per carry, the highest yielded by the Steelers since 1964, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Far from it, Butler will now be more involved in personnel discussions than he had been as the Steelers’ linebackers coach from 2003-14.
“In the past we only got Keith’s input on linebackers. Now he’s going to be talking about defensive linemen, he’s going to be talking about secondary people, so there will be a learning experience for us to hear what his preferences are for those positions,” Colbert said. “We know what he likes and doesn’t like as a linebackers coach, but now it will be the whole defense.”
The Steelers started full staff personnel discussions on Wednesday with position coaches offering grades on players from last season.
Colbert, Tomlin and the Steelers’ scouts and assistant coaches are also putting together the team’s plan for free agency based on needs and players who might be available after the new league year starts on March 10.
Colbert said the list of outside free agents the Steelers may target will be around 30 players. That number, Colbert said, is based on the players the Steelers anticipate being available and those who are within their price range.
“We’ll certainly be looking at improving the pass rush and improving the coverage in the secondary,” Colbert said.
They promoted both.
The team announced Friday that Olsavsky has been elevated to inside linebackers coach and Porter to outside linebackers coach.
They had been defensive assistants, and fill the void left when longtime Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler replaced Dick LeBeau as the team’s defensive coordinator.
The moves allow the Steelers to maintain some continuity on a defensive coaching staff that will have its first new coordinator since 2004, and also play to the strengths of Olsavsky and Porter.
Olsavsky played linebacker in the NFL from 1989-98, with all but one of those seasons coming with the Steelers. He has been on coach Mike Tomlin’s coach since 2010, and Olsavsky has helped develop young inside linebackers such as Vince Williams and Sean Spence. He will continue to work closely with Ryan Shazier, the Steelers’ first-round draft pick last year.
Porter spent just one season as a defensive assistant on Tomlin’s staff before receiving a promotion. But Porter, who is fifth on the Steelers’ all-time sacks list with 60, will be a key figure working with the players at the position he excelled at during his 13-year NFL career.
Porter supplied a jolt of energy to the coaching staff last season, and his credentials as a pass-rusher could help the Steelers improve on the sack numbers that have declined since Pittsburgh last played in the Super Bowl.
The Steelers led the NFL with 48 sacks in 2010. They have averaged 34.8 sacks in their past four seasons.
A football analytics website showed how much work may be ahead of the Steelers as they try to build on the AFC North title they won last season.
The Steelers allowed 368 points in 2014 and that number should have been right around 287, according to www.numberfire.com. The website based the lower figure on what a statistically average NFL defense would have surrendered by taking a by number of factors into consideration, including strength of schedule.
The Steelers were plus 81 in net expected points allowed, according to www.numberfire.com, and ranked 25th in the NFL in that category.
Regardless of how much stock one puts in such metrics, the website correctly points out that a suspect secondary and the lack of a consistent pass rush led to the Steelers ranking near the bottom of the league in net expected points allowed.
The Steelers’ defense is already in the midst of change with longtime linebackers coach Keith Butler taking over for Dick LeBeau as the defensive coordinator.
And what would help the Steelers more than getting immediate help from a draft that is expected to focus on defense is young players such as linebackers Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier and safety Shamarko Thomas emerging as major contributors in 2015.
But a freshly shaved Keisel gave a strong indication Wednesday night that he will return for another season if the Steelers want him back.
Keisel’s 13th NFL season ended in late November when he tore his triceps in the Steelers’ 35-32 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The injury and his advanced football age raised questions about whether the 36-year-old Keisel has played his last down for the Steelers.
The Steelers’ change in defensive coordinator from Dick LeBeau to Keith Butler cast more uncertainty on the future of Keisel and a handful of veterans.
But, much like veteran outside linebacker James Harrison, Keisel proved he could still play last season after the Steelers re-signed him in August.
Keisel finished fourth on the Steelers with 12 quarterback pressures despite missing the last four games. He also batted down six passes and made his second career interception.
Rookie Stephon Tuitt emerged after Keisel went down, and the 2014 second-round draft pick has the look of a cornerstone player. But Keisel had to accept a part-time role when he returned last season, and the Steelers don’t have much at defensive end behind Tuitt and Cameron Heyward.
Keisel and Cam Thomas are each signed for one more season, and if it comes down to a choice between the two, it's close to a no-brainer to bring Keisel back.
Thomas is younger and also plays nose tackle. But Keisel outplayed him in 2014 and Thomas' position flexibility isn't as valuable since the Steelers already have a pair of nose tackles in Steve McLendon and Daniel McCullers, who will play more in 2015 if he makes the improvement coach Mike Tomlin expects from players in their second NFL seasons.
Whatever the Steelers decide to do, Keisel seems at peace with what happens next.
“It’s getting close,” he said of retirement. “That’s the way this business goes.”
Keisel said on ESPN's "SVP & Russillo Show" that he has started the rehabilitation process and that “I’m still under contract (with the Steelers) so who knows?”
Art Rooney II said last week that the Steelers have not made a decision about whether to bring back Keisel or veterans such as outside linebacker James Harrison, strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor.
Keisel signed a two-year, $3 million contract with the Steelers last August. Waiving the 13th-year veteran would only cost the Steelers $250,000 against the salary cap in 2015.
On the other hand Keisel showed in 2014 that he can still play. The 6-foot-5, 285-pounder finished fourth on the Steelers with 12 quarterback pressures despite missing the final four games. He also tipped or batted down six passes and recorded a sack and an interception.
Keisel, who turns 37 next September, would have to accept a reserve role if he returns to the Steelers with Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt set as the starting defensive ends.
But he played a situational role in 2014 and the Steelers won’t have any experienced depth at defensive end if they release Cam Thomas, who has one year left on his contract and did not show much in his first season with the Steelers.
Keisel, during rounds of ESPN interviews in Phoenix, endorsed new Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler so the departure of Dick LeBeau probably won’t factor into Keisel’s decision when it comes to his football future.
Not that Keisel will ever forget how much LeBeau shaped him in more ways than one.
“He means so much to me and I know he means so much to so many of my teammates that had the great pleasure of being around him on a daily basis,” Keisel said on the show. “He is a great football mind, a great football coach, one of the best all-time. But there’s so much more to Coach than that that it’s hard to explain how much he has meant to us and a lot of us why we’re the men we are off the field is because of his influence. He touched so many of our lives.”
Coach Bruce Arians told ESPN.com Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss on Monday that he could not persuade LeBeau to join his staff.
“I think just the distance with his family,” Arians said. “He expects a lot of interest. Of course, I had a lot of interest but I think the distance and he just decided what he wants to do.”
LeBeau is available after the Steelers did not renew his contract and later promoted longtime linebackers coach Keith Butler to defensive coordinator.
LeBeau lives in Cincinnati and he prefers to coach east of the Mississippi River so he doesn’t have to stray too far from home.
LeBeau, 77, made it clear that he wants to continue coaching when Mike Tomlin asked him his plans a week after the Steelers’ AFC wild-card loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
One possible landing spot for LeBeau is in Tennessee.
He and Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt coached together in Pittsburgh and are good friends. Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton coached the secondary in Pittsburgh before becoming a coordinator, first in Arizona and now in Tennessee, and is a LeBeau protégé.
“I am not sure I see anything dramatic other than to acknowledge that the game is changing,” Rooney said in regard to Butler succeeding LeBeau. “Keeping up with offenses these days is a real challenge. But I think Keith is very knowledgeable and has been around a long time. He has seen a lot of defensive football in his days. We are excited to have him as our defensive coordinator.”
Butler will run the Steelers’ defense after coaching the team’s linebackers since 2003. His challenge isn’t just following LeBeau, one of the great defensive minds in NFL history.
It is also getting more big plays out of a defense that managed just 33 sacks in 2014 and had 21 takeaways.
Only six NFL teams had fewer sacks than the Steelers in 2014.
“We need to be able to pressure the quarterback more consistently,” Rooney said. “Some of the games that we were successful in this season, I think we were able to do that. I think that’s the key to stopping these high-powered offenses. You have to be able to pressure the quarterback. We need to create some more turnovers [too], those kinds of things.”
The Steelers have to get more out of their outside linebackers next season and that position is fraught with uncertainty.
Jarvis Jones, the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2013, is the only outside linebacker on the roster with NFL experience who is signed beyond 2014. And he has just three career sacks though Jones essentially lost this season after dislocating his right wrist in the third game.
Jason Worilds, who has 15.5 sacks in the past two seasons, will be an unrestricted free agent if the Steelers don’t sign or tag the fifth-year veteran before March 10.
The Steelers paid Worilds $9.754 million in 2014 after using the transition tag on the 2010 second-round pick. They have the option of tagging him again though the Steelers would like to sign Worilds to a multi-year contract that would be more cap friendly than the deal he had in 2014.
“We would like to keep Jason,” Rooney said. “He had a good year. Like anything else, if the two sides can come to an agreement on a contract we would like to keep him.”
"I don't want to get into any kind of detailed discussions," the Steelers president said on Wednesday. "The only thing I can say is that he made the decision to resign. He made the announcement that he was going to resign. Whether it could have been done a different way or not, there is no sense speculating about it. I just wish him all the best."
LeBeau, 77, made it clear he still wants to coach after the Steelers decided to turn the defense over to longtime linebackers coach Keith Butler.
LeBeau has talked with the Arizona Cardinals, who are coached by former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
The Steelers' transition from LeBeau to Butler has generated a lot of speculation about what exactly went down. Rooney said he talked to coach Mike Tomlin before LeBeau resigned on Jan. 10 when asked if he had any input on the direction of the Steelers' defense.
Rooney also said LeBeau's role with the Steelers likely would have changed had he returned to the organization in 2015.
"But he made his decision (to resign)," Rooney said. "I respect his decision. I certainly can't quarrel with any decision he is going to make."
Rooney had nothing but good things to say about LeBeau and his impact on the Steelers, whom he served as defensive coordinator in 1995-96 and from 2004-14.
"Dick was really somebody that made a tremendous contribution over many years," Rooney said. "It was a pleasure to have him here. I am sorry to see him go but those things happen. Sometimes you just have to move on. On a personal level, he was a good friend and somebody that I just enjoyed being with and sharing stories about many years of being in the football business. We will miss him."
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I'd be surprised if they give up on Cortez Allen. They aren't exactly brimming with young talent at the position and they did not give up on Ike Taylor after he got benched in 2006. That worked out pretty well for them and leads me to believe they will give Allen another chance. I think there is a good chance the Steelers release Cam Thomas, who didn't give them much in 2014 and would only cost $500,000 against the salary cap in 2015 if they cut ties with him. I'd be surprised if veteran wide receiver Lance Moore is back -- I think he would be too -- as he also has a minimal cap hit in 2015 ($322,500) if the Steelers release him.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I don't think the signing of Shawn Lemon will have anything to do with what the Steelers plan to do with Jason Worilds. I suppose Lemon's signing provides a little insurance if Worilds walks and certainly adds intrigue at outside linebacker given Lemon's production in the Canadian Football League. But right now all he has is a chance to make the Steelers at a position where they could be thin. The Steelers can't assume Lemon's play in the CFL will translate to the NFL. They would love it if he follows a similar script as Miami defensive end Cameron Wake, who has 63 sacks since signing with the Dolphins in 2009. But Wake is the exception and not the rule as far as former CFL stars making a similar impact in the NFL.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: It will be over $100 million and probably more than five years. The Steelers can realistically expect five more good seasons out of Ben Roethlisberger, which is why he will get another big contract. My guess is the deal is in the six- to seven-year deal range so it helps the Steelers as far as spreading out Roethlisberger's signing bonus over the length of the contract. It will be interesting to see what the numbers are but this deal will get done. Both sides want it and will make it happen.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I don't think offensive coordinator Todd Haley should be fired after the Steelers' offense turned in one of the best seasons in franchise history. Haley's play-calling in the wild-card game against the Baltimore Ravens would be considerably down the list as far as my reasons why the Steelers lost. And it certainly didn't help that the Steelers were missing Le'Veon Bell because of a hyperextended right knee and could not run their offense through the All-Pro running back. The offense has taken significant steps forward with Haley as the coordinator and could be even better next season. He isn't going anywhere.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I don't think there is any question that the Steelers' schedule will be more difficult than it was in 2014. Everything lined up for the Steelers last season, including the fact that they did not play one game west of the Mississippi River. That changes in 2015 as they have several long road trips, including one to Seattle. The plus side, if you are looking for one in regard to a schedule that looks pretty daunting on paper, is that the Steelers have a recent tendency of playing to the level of their competition. If that continues in 2015 they should be able to hold their own despite the difficulty of their schedule.