Unhappy Jeff Reed or unhappy LaMarr Woodley?
A $2,814,000 salary to kick a football for the Steelers or a $550,000 deal to be one of their sack monsters?
Who gets your sympathy?
OK, so that's a loaded question. Of course, if you are a clear thinker, you're going to say Woodley, who feels as if he's being robbed, which he surely is. Remember, we're talking about sports economics here. A lot of us would be thrilled to make half of $550,000 or one-quarter or even a 10th. But for a Pro Bowl outside linebacker just entering his prime, it's almost criminal. I mean, the man had a total of 25 sacks the past two years, not counting the six he had in three postseason games after the 2008 season when the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII.
Some players end up in the right place at the right time and make countless millions more than they deserve. For others such as Woodley, things just don't seem to line up. He's in the fourth and final year of his original contract. By NFL rule, the Steelers can't give him more than a 30 percent raise in base salary in a new deal. There's also the uncertain labor situation in the league that both he and the team have to consider. No one knows if there will be a lockout or a season in 2011. Or if there will be a salary cap. Or if a player with Woodley's service time will be a restricted or unrestricted free agent. Or if teams still will have a franchise tag to put on a player.
The Steelers could give Woodley some sort of bonus today in exchange for an extra year on his contract. But unless that bonus is astronomical, he almost certainly wouldn't do the deal. And the team isn't going to go astronomical because of the uncertainty about the salary cap in the next labor agreement.
"It is what it is," Woodley said after lunch Sunday at training camp.
I'm convinced Woodley will be with the Steelers for a long, long time, especially after hearing what director of football operations Kevin Colbert had to say the other day. "We know he's a pretty special player. We've told him that." The Steelers almost always find a way to keep a young player they really like. They will find a way to keep Woodley, 25.
That's not going to do much for the sack monster this season, though. Unless things change, he will be horribly underpaid. He also will be facing the risk of an injury that could prevent him from making the big money next season and beyond.
Can an unhappy player be a productive player?
It seemed like a fair question for Woodley.
"When I'm out there on the football field, I don't think about it," he said. "I don't need a contract to be motivated. Losing five games [in a row] last season and not making the playoffs is what motivates me. I've been motivated to help this team get better since the last game in Miami last season when we found out we weren't in the playoffs."
Woodley is 2 for 2 with me. He reported to camp Friday when he easily could have held out to show his displeasure. He also is talking a good game, saying all the right things about being a team-first guy.
All Woodley has to do now is play a good game this season.
Reed faces the same challenge. His beef doesn't appear to be over the money he will make this season. He says the Steelers told him they would do a long-term contract with him when they put the franchise tag on him this spring to assure he would be their kicker in '10 at the average salary of the top five kickers in the NFL.
"I understand business moves, but I'm not a big fan of lying," Reed told the Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac.
But players don't always listen closely to what team executives tell them. A team might say, "We're going to do a long-term deal with you." But the player hears, "We're going to give you everything you want." Then, when the negotiating process breaks down, the player gets mad.
"A little bit bitter," Reed said.
The guess here is he will get over it and keep cranking out those field goals this season. He has no choice if he wants to get that long-term deal next year, with the Steelers or another team. In the meantime, a $2,814,000 salary hardly seems shabby for a kicker who, though terrific on field goals, leaves a lot to be desired on kickoffs.
Reed gets no sympathy here.
It all goes to Woodley.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.