On the Steelers: Lamarr Woodley -- The high cost of not doing business

A byproduct of the coming capless season might make it impossible for the team to sign their Pro Bowl linebacker to a long-term deal.

Sunday, May 16, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The uncertain NFL labor future may cost the Steelers Lamarr Woodley, who will likely deserve more in a contract than the team will be allowed to offer.
The Steelers and the agent for LaMarr Woodley face what appear to be insurmountable obstacles to negotiate a long-term deal for the young Pro Bowl linebacker. Unless there is a new collective bargaining agreement soon, it would be near impossible for them to do a multi-year contract.

Written into the current CBA is what is called the 30 percent rule, which went into effect this year. Any new contract cannot contain salaries more than 30 percent above a player's 2009 salary each year.

Woodley earned $460,000 in 2009 as part of the four-year contract he signed in 2007 and will expire after the 2010 season. For the Steelers to negotiate a new long-term contract, his 2010 salary could increase only 30 percent, or $138,000, to $598,000. For each year of Woodley's new deal, he could not earn in salary more than $138,000 over the previous year. In 2011, his salary could only go to $736,000, in 2012 to $874,000 and, in 2013, he would finally hit seven figures at $1,012,000.

Those are woefully low for a player of the status of Woodley, who led the team with 13.5 sacks last season after his 11.5 (plus six more in the postseason) in 2008.

Woodley could expect a five-year contract for at least $40 million, probably more. The Steelers signed linebacker James Harrison to a six-year, $51.75 million contract last year.

With the 30 percent rule, the Steelers could only give Woodley $4.37 million of that in salaries over a five-year contract. The rest would have to come in a signing bonus of more than $35 million. That's not going to happen. Under the 30 percent rule, roster bonuses count as salary, so they could not get around it by using roster bonuses spread out over the five-year contract.

There is no way around it. Unless there is a new CBA by March, the Steelers will have to wait and either make Woodley their franchise player or he could become restricted if this year's non-cap rules carry over to 2011. Both of those would be somewhat of a gamble, particularly if the NFL negotiates a new CBA on, say, March 5 that does not include franchise tags. Woodley could become an instant unrestricted free agent.

The 49ers did negotiate a contract extension for their outstanding linebacker, Patrick Willis. He was taken by them 11th overall in the same draft as Woodley, 2007. But Willis received much higher salaries in his new deal because they were based on his 2009 salary of $2,540,000. That's a lot easier to work with than Woodley's salary of $460,000, which was based on him being a second-round pick, the 46th overall player taken.

Jeff Reed finds himself in a good spot for the Steelers being able to negotiate a contract with him. The kicker does not fall into the 30 percent rule because his contract expired after the 2009 season and they then made him their franchise player. They can start at any base salary with Reed they want.

That also is the case with tackle Willie Colon, who is a restricted free agent for the second year. So far, however, the team has chosen not to negotiate a multi-year contract with Colon.

Good choice, wrong Hall

Art Rooney Jr. was inducted a few weeks ago into the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. He headed some of the best drafts in NFL history with the Steelers, including the best of them all, 1974, which produced four Hall of Famers (Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster) among other stars.

Men like Rooney, who is Dan Rooney's brother, and longtime Steelers scout Bill Nunn should be considered more seriously for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Both have been nominated multiple times. At least, there should be a special wing honoring the contributions of scouts and personnel men in pro football and on-field officials.

The Hall also should consider recognizing some of the black pioneers of the game. Not enough attention has been paid to the league's unofficial banning of black players from 1934 until 1946, when re-integration resumed sporadically and at a slow pace. The Steelers had one of only two black players in the NFL in 1933 on their roster, Ray Kemp. He supposedly quit after that season to go into coaching, but by 1934 there were no blacks in the league and none for the next dozen years.

Baseball, which had banned blacks for a much longer period, at least found a way to try to make amends and induct many into its Hall of Fame.

The Brian Cushing case: A morality tale gone amok?

The Associated Press' unprecedented revote for NFL defensive rookie of the year and the moralizing that followed was interesting. Brian Cushing, pictured at left, won it the first time in a landslide and won it the second time in a much closer vote.

These are the same people who chose Bill Belichick as the 2007 AP Coach of the Year, the same year the coach and the Patriots were fined heavily and docked a first-round draft pick for cheating. That award was an abomination and only the New York Giants saved the NFL from delivering another tainted Lombardi Trophy to New England.

Why should players be held to higher standards than coaches? If those at the AP felt this way, they should have just rescinded Cushing's award and given it to the runner-up.

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