There's a perfectly great reason why Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley signed his franchise tender Wednesday, and other players may follow his lead.
It's a lengthy explanation, so let's try to keep it as simple as possible.
Woodley has four years of NFL experience. Under the rules of the last collective-bargaining agreement, Woodley would have been a restricted free agent this offseason, which means the Steelers would have still held the power in his negotiations, whether it was with them or other teams.
Teams can determine how they'd like to tender their restricted free agents, and the highest offer in 2010 was roughly $3.2 million. The franchise tag for linebackers, though, has been projected to be worth $10 million, so Woodley has guaranteed himself a bigger paycheck for 2011.
Obviously, there's still no telling if the franchise tag will exist under the new CBA, so by signing his tender, Woodley is protecting himself financially. If the tag doesn't remain in place, the Steelers will likely have the ability to place a restricted tender on Woodley, who would lose roughly $7 million.
Because the CBA was in its final league year in 2010, the rules of free agency changed, and players with five years of experience were restricted free agents. Since the possibility remains that the 2010 rules could be temporarily set for 2011, the uncertainty continues to loom for free agents.
That's why other players may follow suit with Woodley. Panthers center Ryan Kalil (four years of NFL experience) has already reportedly decided to accept their franchise tender, and Jets linebacker David Harris (four years of experience) could head that way, too. Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway and Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata are all five-year veterans who are in the more uncertain area.
As of Wednesday afternoon, five players with at least six years of experience were also tagged — Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, Patriots guard Logan Mankins, Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson and Browns kicker Phil Dawson — but it seems unlikely that they'll accept the offer until the new CBA is in place because it would make more sense financially to test the open market if that becomes a possible option.
The NFL Players Association has also said it will challenge the use of the franchise tag if it holds up, but the NFLPA has always had that option, and that threat carries very little weight.
As shown Wednesday, with Woodley leading the charge, free agents are in a complicated position due to the labor uncertainty, and their decisions could be impacted by a multitude of factors.