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LaMarr Woodley Expects Franchise Tag Soon

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley is "fully expecting" his team to franchise tag him in the coming weeks. As Michael explained yesterday, the tag grants players a one-year salary equal to the average of the top-five contracts at his position. For linebackers, that amount is a little over $10 million, quite an improvement over Woodley's rookie contract, which he continued to honor despite obviously giving his employer an excessive return on that meager investment. (Woodley, who at 26 is hitting the prime of his career, has 35 sacks since 2008, the fourth most during that span, and his production in the postseason (11 sacks in seven games) has been ridiculous.)

While $10 million is obviously a lot more enticing than six figures, players typically aren't thrilled to get tagged, as it only guarantees them money for one year. Just think about what would happen to their expected earnings if they suffer some catastrophic injury during their tag year. Yikes. In any case, there's a chance that Woodley could receive the average for defensive ends, like Terrell Suggs did a few years back - this would be closer to $13 million. The NFL Players Association is likely to challenge the fairness of franchise tags in their impending negotiations with the league, which you really can't blame them for. For my part, I think that if the tag sticks around, it ought to at least be adjusted to more accurately represent a player's one-year market value. For instance, Woodley's tag salary should be computed by considering the average of the top-five 3-4 outside linebackers. Personnel from 4-3 and 3-4 schemes may be the same nominally from time to time ("linebacker," "defensive end"), but it's misleading to say they're at all the same thing.

Of course, none of this would be an issue if not for "the 30 percent rule," a bizarre loophole that has prevented the Steelers from locking Woodley up for the foreseeable future. Pittsburgh is renowned for its ability to evaluate its own personnel (not that it takes much of a microscope to conclude that Woodley is a monster) and reward the deserving parties with long-term contracts with good guaranteed money, so it's a shame to see them getting punished like this for drafting well. Tagging Woodley is an obvious move, as it simply buys the front office some time to see if they can't figure a way around the 30 percent rule. Or maybe the rules change altogether. Only time will tell.

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Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.