Thursday, May 03, 2007

Tag! You’re it!


After all the hysterical pre-draft trade speculation, nobody’s talking about Alan Faneca. The Steelers’ front office is silent. The Faneca camp is silent. Even the grubby mainstream media is silent.

Not Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls.

Hey! Somebody’s got to say it!


The Steelers plan to franchise-tag his ass.

What’s that mean?

Along with Minnesota’s Steve Hutchinson, Faneca is one of the two best guards in football. Faneca’s contract expires after the coming season, so before the April 28 draft most people assumed one of three things would occur: (1) The Steelers would sign him to a lucrative five-year extension with a signing bonus in the very posh neighborhood of $50 million, a bar set by the recent contracts given to Faneca’s legitamate peer, Hutchinson, and Eric Steinbach, a journeyman who’s never been All-Pro; (2) Trade Faneca for a high-round draft pick, with Arizona discussed as the logical destination because of Faneca’s pronounced affection for former Steelers’ assistant coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm, now in charge in the desert; or (3) let him play out his contract and become a free agent following the coming season.

The fourth option that nobody has discussed in public (that we’ve heard) is The Frachise Tag. In the murky world of Salary Cap Management, players generally hate the franchise tag, and franchises (the Steelers in particular) are loathe to use it. They’re allowed to tag one player per year at a league-average top-five salary for the position.

The club is in control, however, and if ever a situation called for using the franchise tag, this is it.

Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls are not cap experts, so feel free to correct us. But, as we understand it, the franchise tag stipulates that the club pay Faneca at the equivalent average of a top-five player at his position – without a signing bonus. Franchising Faneca would put his salary for the 2008-09 season at about $9.55 million -- a one-year commitment that is fair, which is what the Steelers ostensibly are all about. Unfortunately for Faneca – and we should all be so unfortunate to be in a position to receive a one-year salary of about $9-10 million – this represents getting cock-blocked. He’s at an age – in his prime – where he should expect to cash in on a five-year deal at market price: about $50 million guaranteed, with a base salary starting at $7 million and escalating to about $11.5 million over the length of the contract, with the understanding that he’ll never see the back-ended last two years. That’s why, for the player and agent, it’s so important to nail down that guaranteed money in a signing bonus. That’s cash, baby, and money talks.

And bullshit walks.

If the Steelers have proven anything over the years, it’s that they have little patience for bullshit. And if Faneca thought he was going to push his leverage as a pending free agent, that’s bullshit. He can miss voluntary workouts and min-camp. He can talk sweet nothings about his fondness for Whisenhunt and Grimm. He can pout and bemoan the “direction” the Steelers are taking with new coach Mike Tomlin.

But the Steelers won’t be strong-armed. Faneca’s been a great player for them over the years, and a model citizen. He and his wife have done a lot of good work for charities (including The Epilepsy Foundation, among others) in the community. He’s kept a low profile, never gotten in trouble and appears to be destined for the Hall of Fame. He’s earned his right to a big payday.

He’ll get it, eventually. Not here, though, not unless you count $10 million as a “big payday.” I do, and you do. But that’s beside the point.

Next January, the Steelers will franchise Faneca’s ass and effectively cock-block him for another year. They can keep doing this, by the way, for another two years beyond that. He’s not going anywhere. The Steelers have to negotiate long-term contracts with two other elite players, Ben Roethlisgberger and Troy Polamulu. In the meantime, they can hold their cards close to the vest. You can’t give huge signing bonuses to everybody – so they'll assess their options with Roethlisberger and Polamulu, and wait on Faneca. If his play declines or he gets injured, God forbid, they'll let him walk.

He knows it, his agent knows it, and the Steelers know it.

At the moment, however, to Faneca they are saying, effectively, “Tag! You’re it!”