Alex Mack contract boosts value of Maurkice Pouncey

Karl Walter

Mack signed a 5-year, $42 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but since he was given a transition tag from the Browns, they had the right to match that deal. They did, and the center market has blown up.

The Steelers have been down this road a time or two.

In 2006, after a bitter dispute between the Seahawks and Vikings, left guard Steve Hutchinson walked away with a 7-year, $49 million deal with Minnesota.

That immediately sent Steelers LG Alan Faneca through the roof, in terms of value. Faneca was making around $4.75 million a year, previously among the highest paid guards in the game. Hutchinson's deal destroyed the market, and, from the Steelers' perspective, it was a market they weren't going to enter.

Faneca was reportedly upset and wanted an extension, giving him the kind of money Hutchinson was making. Faneca showed up for minicamp before the 2007 season - Mike Tomlin's first as the Steelers' head coach - and announced it would be his last year in Pittsburgh.

He played that year, and within seconds of the start of free agency, fielded the largest free agent contract for an offensive lineman in history at 5-years, $40 million with $21 million guaranteed.

No one is suggesting Maurkice Pouncey's reaction to Mack's contract will be similar. Considering Mack was drafted in 2009, and given a five-year deal, it should have been pretty obvious Mack's value would set the market for Pouncey. All statistical evidence will suggest Pouncey's deal should be around that level.

And the current make-up of the Steelers' roster might suggest they don't have an interest in giving Pouncey that kind of money. They signed veteran back-up Cody Wallace to a three-year deal this off-season, establishing depth at center and guard. Wallace started the last three games of the season, and the Steelers ran the ball effectively with him there, something they struggled to do with Fernando Velasco, who replaced the injured Pouncey for the first 13 games.

Injuries are Pouncey's primary detractor right now. While Mack hasn't missed a game in his career (80 games total) Pouncey has played 46 games in four seasons, having missed all of the 2013 season.

So the Steeles are likely more inclined to signing Pouncey as well as keeping an able-bodied back-up center in place. They failed to do that last season, and it affected them greatly. Pouncey went down eight plays into the season, and with it, went the Steelers' outside zone running scheme they had some some time on implementing during the offseason. While that speaks to Pouncey's value as a player, it also speaks to the risks he brings with him in terms of a long-term extension.

The Steelers didn't miss a beat, really, without Faneca in 2008, winning the Super Bowl even despite a shaky offensive line. And with talented younger players alongside Pouncey, Steelers fans can expect Pouncey's extension to be a primary focus of interest starting this August, the next reasonable time the team may look to give him a deal.

Odds are good Pouncey will get exactly what Mack did; a transition tag, and a wait-and-see approach, after his rookie contract is up after 2014.

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