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Should The Steelers Have Budged From Their Stance on Franchising Players?

A quick question here, prompted by this article in the Sporting News about the 10 worst moves and non-moves of the offseason. Checking in at #1 was the Bears' inability to find a better QB option than Rex Grossman. I certainly don't think highly of Grossman, but he still is a very young QB and in my opinion, still capable of developing into a better QB option than some of the older scrub QBs who seem to still get opportunities (read: Trent Dilfer). I would probably put the Cowboys' ridiculous trade with the Dolphins of Aykin Ayodele and Tony Fasano for a 4th round pick at #1. That move was labeled the #3 poorest decision.

Down the list a bit was the Steelers' decision to let Faneca go via free agency:

9. The Steelers should have franchised Faneca.

Let's get this one straight: The contracts of Pittsburgh Steelers offensive linemen Alan Faneca and Max Starks expired after the 2007 season. The Steelers could have used the franchise tag (which provides two first-round draft picks as compensation if the player signs with a new team) or the transition tag (which costs less but carries with it no compensation) on one of them.

So they chose to use the transition tag on Starks. Once he signed his tender, Starks was guaranteed to receive nearly $7 million in salary for 2008. Not bad for a guy who was on the bench at the start of 2007.

For only $500,000 more, the Steelers could have kept Alan Faneca, a perennial Pro Bowl left guard, for one more year. Sure, Faneca didn't want to remain in Pittsburgh. But he didn't want to remain in Pittsburgh last year, either. He eventually removed the stick from his rear end and had another solid season.

For a one-year haul of $7.5 million, Faneca likely would have done the same thing in 2008.

Now the Steelers are without Faneca, they got no compensation when he signed with another AFC team (the Jets) and they are paying almost $7 million to a guy who doesn't deserve it.  

My first thought was that Mike Florio, the author of the article, must not realize that the Steelers almost never use the Franchise Tag. Most likely though, he is aware of this, and thought that the Steelers should have made an exception to their general rule in this instance. After all, Kevin Colbert did have this to say about franchising players:

“The franchise tag is always at our disposal,” Colbert said. “Traditionally, we do not use the franchise tag, because, as an organization, we want to have players that want to be part of our organization. But we will never say we’ll never use the franchise tag because it’s a collective bargaining tool that’s at our disposal.”

I know we've gone over this before but it is an interesting situation. I personally think the general rule of thumb the Steelers abide by to not franchise players is a good one, especially in the case of 30+ year old players who only have a small window to maximize their financial gains in the league.  In the case of Faneca, who knows what kind of offer he would have gotten in 2009, and I can understand not wanting to jeopardize his financial situation after all he has done for the organization for more than a decade.

But I don't think the decision to not franchise Faneca can be labeled a business decision. As Florio points out, the Steelers basically are on the hook for the same amount with Max Starks (unless something else gets worked out with Starks sooner rather than later).

So what to do? Are we to believe that Alan Faneca really wanted no part of the Steelers organization? I remember him being a malcontent one offseason ago, but when the time came for him to suit up and play, he did so. He may not have had his best year as a professional, but I don't think it was because he wasn't trying or disgusted with his teamates and the organization. Would he not have done the same in 2008 for us? Will he really be more happy in New York where there's literally zero chance of his team winning a Super Bowl in the next two years? Would he not enjoy playing on an offensive unit that is downright scary on paper? I'm not sure, and I'm not sure exactly what type of free agent contract he might have received in 2009. 

My guess is a desperate team like the Jets would still be willing to pay him a mountain of coin, even a year later in his career. Hell, the salary cap will be even higher next year, and there's almost no doubt that there will be a couple of teams with GMs and coaches on the hot seat looking to take short cuts and improve their roster immediately via free agency.

So, I'm not sure who the winner is here. I'm not sure that anybody's a winner here. Faneca got paid, but he'll likely toil in obscurity for the remainder of his career. And the Steelers certainly didn't win. Faneca's no cancer to a locker room, so I can't buy an argument that him being gone at least preserves a healthy atmosphere in our locker room. And we haven't saved any money, at least in the short term. Sigh.