On the Steelers: CBA negotiations play major role
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The Steelers apparently are standing pat for the most part and will not push to sign any of their top potential free agents before their contracts with the team expire with the end of the NFL's calendar year March 3.
Of the 15 players who could become unrestricted free agents under the old rules of a collective bargaining agreement set to expire at midnight March 3, only one could be found who has had any type of talks about a new contract. That includes their top three free agents to be -- linebacker LaMarr Woodley, cornerback Ike Taylor and offensive tackle Willie Colon.
They have held some "brief talks" for a new contract with offensive tackle Jonathan Scott, according to agent Jordan Woy, but have discussed no numbers. Scott started the final 11 games, including three in the postseason, at left tackle for injured Max Starks. He signed a one-year contract in 2010 as a free agent from Buffalo.
It also is possible they will put the franchise player tag on Woodley before the deadline to do so a week from Thursday. That designation would, under the old rules, guarantee that Woodley plays for the Steelers another season with his salary determined as the average of the top five linebacker salaries in the league in 2010. A year ago, that was $9.68 million and should reach $10 million in 2011. The Steelers did that with Starks in 2009 and were able to sign him to a new long-term contract that June. They would hope to do the same with Woodley, who earned only $550,000 last season, his fourth and the third as their starting left outside linebacker.
The teams, however, do not even know if there will be a franchise tag included when the owners and players agree to a new CBA. Still, teams have been designating franchise players over the past week, and the Steelers may follow suit with Woodley.
Before last year, players could become unrestricted free agents after four seasons, provided their contracts expired. They became restricted free agents after three years. That changed last year when the NFL entered the final year of the CBA as an uncapped year in 2010. Instead of four years needed to become a UFA, it turned to six, and that affected Colon. He lost millions in a potential long-term contract as an unrestricted free agent. Instead, Colon was restricted and signed a one-year tender for $2,198,000, then was lost for the season when his Achilles ruptured in June.
Woodley also was affected monetarily by the uncapped year, in which he earned a salary of $550,000. Under normal circumstances, with one year left on his contract entering 2010, the Steelers would have signed him to a multi-year, multi-million contract extension with a big signing bonus. But because of the rules changes in the final year of the CBA, any new contract would limit salary increases of no more than 30 percent annually, and 30 percent of $550,000 was not in the neighborhood that Woodley had since resided. The alternative was to give him a huge signing bonus but that might have cost anywhere between $25 million and $40 million.
So, Woodley played at a bargain-basement salary and, provided there is a new collective bargaining agreement this year, will make up for lost time either as the Steelers' $10 million franchise player or with a new multi-year contract.
The following are the Steelers free agents, assuming the old rules apply, making players unrestricted after four years and restricted after three:
Unrestricted -- Willie Colon, Nick Eason, Trai Essex, Keyaron Fox, Chris Hoke, Anthony Madison, Mewelde Moore, Shaun Suisham, Ike Taylor, LaMarr Woodley, William Gay, Jonathan Scott, Daniel Sepulveda, Matt Spaeth, Greg Warren.
Restricted -- Dennis Dixon, Tony Hills.
Exclusive rights -- Doug Legursky.
First Published February 16, 2011 12:00 am