By Pat Kirwan
NFL.com Senior Analyst
(May 15, 2007) -- Two months ago, a prominent NFL general manager warned me that escalating contracts were going to really affect the business of football.
"Managing our locker rooms is getting more difficult all the time," he said, "because players with less credentials than the best players at their positions are getting deals that are throwing everything out of whack."
Well, no better example than at offensive guard.
If Alan Faneca signs somewhere else, Pittsburgh should blame Seattle.
Last year, the rules changed when Steve Hutchinson, Seattle's exceptional offensive guard, got a transition tag from his team. That tag gave any other team the right to negotiate a deal with Hutchinson and have the player present it to the Seahawks to match. The Vikings broke the bank to get Hutchinson's services and changed forever the value of an offensive guard.
In years past, a guard was not considered a position to be paid like a left tackle, but since the guards (and centers) were grouped with the tackles in the "tag" process, it was only a matter of time before guards would get paid big.
As we entered this offseason, a number of personnel people told me the Hutchinson deal would not be the impetus for more mega contracts for the guards. Wrong! Eric Steinbach, Leonard Davis and Derrick Dockery all hit a jackpot off the Hutch deal.
The Steelers are really the first team to feel the effects. There's no way the Steelers want to lose the best guard in football, Alan Faneca. In fact, according to his agent, there was an assumption that when Faneca reached the last year of his deal, which is 2007, that both sides would sit down and iron out an extension. Keep in mind when Faneca signed his current deal, it made him the highest-paid guard in the league.
Now the Steelers are looking at what it will take to keep Faneca and will not pay at that level, even if it is for a future Hall of Famer.
The subject of trading him comes up and you have to ask, why trade him? The Steelers are confident Faneca will play at a high level this season, and when he leaves for "greener" pastures, the Steelers will receive a third-round compensatory pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. If you trade him now for a second-round pick, you lose the use of his services in 2007 and wind up gaining compensation that might only be 30 picks higher than what they would get anyway.
Next year, Faneca will be paid and his age will not be a factor. Watch the game tapes, because this 30-year-old will probably play four more seasons at a very high level. It just won't be in a Steelers uniform.
Had Hutchinson never gotten a transition tag from the Seahawks, a lot of NFL offensive guards would have never been paid what they are getting right now. Next year, Faneca is probably going to rewrite the record book for paying guards and young players behind him will be the next to benefit.
Five years from now, maybe it's Ben Grubbs of the Ravens or Justin Blaylock of the Falcons or Arron Sears in Tampa. Someone or all of them have a chance to get paid a salary no one ever thought was possible.