PITTSBURGH (AP) Jason Worilds spent five seasons with the Pittsburgh 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.
''After much thought & consideration I have chosen to step away from football as I have opted to pursue other interests,'' the 27-year-old Worilds tweeted Tuesday night.
Worilds had 25 1/2 sacks with the Steelers, including a team-high 7 1/2 last season while helping the team to an 11-5 record and the AFC North title. He played last season under a one-year transitional tag deal that paid him $9.75 million. He said in January he would explore his options and did not rule out a return to Pittsburgh if it worked out.
''I had the chance to leave last year and I'm here this year,'' Worilds said in January. ''We'll see, we'll see.''
Pittsburgh had the opportunity to make Worilds a transitional or franchise player - meaning the team would offer him a one-year tender and be compensated if he signed it then signed elsewhere - but declined and planned to start negotiating with Worilds after getting a chance to look at the market.
The Steelers are in serious need of depth at outside linebacker. They addressed part of the problem on Monday when they signed Arthur Moats to a three-year contract. Moats played both inside and outside linebacker last season.
Five-time Pro Bowler James Harrison is also a free agent after having 5 1/2 sacks at age 36 last fall.
Harrison announced last month he's going to continue training while aiming for a 13th season. Not Worilds, a second-round pick out of Virginia Tech in the 2010 draft who became the latest player in his prime to leave gobs of money on the table.
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, 30, and Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker, 26, also announced their retirements in the opening hours of free agency.
''Despite any concern and speculation that may ensue, I appreciate those that are respectful of my decision,'' Worilds tweeted.