The NFL has said that teams may apply the franchise tag before the current labor deal expires on March 4. The union disputes the availability of the franchise tag in the final year of the current labor deal, since there’s no labor deal for the season to which the tag will apply.
Either way, it’s a matter for negotiation (and, presumably, litigation). And, either way, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley anticipates the tag to be applied to him during the two-week window that opens on Thursday, February 10.
Albert Breer of NFL Network reports that Woodley is “fully expecting” to receive the franchise player designation, which will entail a one-year guaranteed salary in excess of $10 million, under the current franchise-tag formula.
Breer points out that Woodley could get an even higher franchise number, based on the Terrell Suggs precedent from two years ago. The Ravens tagged him as a linebacker. Suggs claimed he was entitled to the higher defensive end franchise number. In the end, the two sides reached a compromise.
The franchise number for linebackers likely will exceed $10 million. For defensive ends, the number likely will come in at more than $13 million.
Breer notes that it would be difficult for the Steelers to sign Woodley to a long-term deal under the current CBA, but it wouldn’t be impossible. Because signing bonuses don’t fall within the scope of the 30-percent rule, the Steelers could compensate him with a huge signing bonus now, subject to salary cap rules that have yet to be determined.
That said, few teams are signing pending free agents to long-term deals. The fact that players who are due to become free agents won’t become free agents absent a new labor deal has applied plenty of pressure to the union — and it possibly has contributed to the union’s willingness to try to get a new deal done by March 4.