Coming off a Pro Bowl year in 2009, there is little debate that Woodley has outperformed his rookie contract. He led the Steelers with 13.5 sacks while making $460,000 last season.
But new rules during the NFL’s uncapped year have made things very complicated for Woodley and the Steelers. The league’s 30 percent rule is the biggest hurdle for Pittsburgh to work out a pay raise for Woodley, as it is for several other quality players around the league who are nearing the end of their deals.
By rule, Woodley can make a maximum salary of $598,000 in 2010, which is a 30 percent increase over last season. The subsequent salaries could go up only 30 percent each year during the life of the contract. That means a substantial bulk of a multiyear deal would have to go into bonuses, forcing both parties to get extremely creative for Woodley to get fair market value.
Things have been quiet on the Steelers’ front. So far there has been no substantial movement from the team to negotiate a new deal with Woodley. Pittsburgh also drafted three linebackers in the first five rounds last month to groom for the future. But that probably has more to do with James Harrison, 32, than it does Woodley, 25, who is entering his prime.
Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis recently proved that it’s not impossible to get around the 30 percent rule. He signed a five-year, $50 million contract extension with the San Francisco 49ers. The difference is San Francisco had more to work with in terms of base salary, because Willis is a former No. 11 overall pick. Woodley was a second-rounder.
Former second-round pick Kevin Kolb also worked out a one-year, $12 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles that was heavy in bonuses. Pittsburgh probably prefers to go the multiyear route with Woodley.
But it remains to be seen whether the Steelers are willing to work out a new deal this year. The franchise’s primary focus this offseason is to get star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back on track. Couple that with the 30 percent rule, and to date Pittsburgh hasn’t given Woodley’s situation a lot of attention.