Somewhat lost in the conversation over the Pittsburgh Steelers and the seeming inevitability of their placing the franchise tag on Bud Dupree, in no small part due to the team’s salary cap situation, is whether or not tagging the player will actually work out, in the long run.
If the team’s own history is anything to go by, then it doesn’t suggest the happiest of marriages should be expected between the Steelers and Dupree. Obviously, the last time they used the tag, it didn’t exactly work out, with Le’Veon Bell sitting out the 2018 season, though he did play through the tag the year prior to that.
Prior to twice tagging Bell, the Steelers also used the franchise tag or transition tag twice on Max Starks, but they were able to sign him to a long-term contract later on. Others who eventually completed long-term deals were Carnell Lake, Jason Gildon, and LaMarr Woodley.
Lake was the only player to complete the deal that he eventually signed, agreeing to terms on a four-year, $9.2 million contract in 1995. He would go on to start in a Super Bowl for the Steelers that season, and then to play three more, before leaving in free agency to join the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Starks, GIldon, and Woodley were all released prior to the expiration of their contracts. They would use the franchise tag on Gildon in 2002, as he headed into his ninth season. He made the Pro Bowl that year after signing a five-year, $23 million contract, but he would be released after a poor 2003 season, seeing just two years of the deal.
Starks was first given the transition tag in 2008, playing under those terms, then the franchise tag in 2009, ultimately signing a four-year, $26.3 million contract. He would be released two years later, but then re-signed in the middle of the 2011 season, and would remain with the team through 2012, which would have been the final season of his original deal.
And then there was Woodley, whose story you know. They gave him the franchise tag in 2011 and ultimately agreed to a six-year, $61.5 million contract, which at the time was the largest the Steelers had ever given to a defensive player. He looked to be having an All-Pro year before his hamstring blew out midseason. He would never be quite the same, and was released three years into the deal.
The Steelers used the franchise or transition tag three other times on players who did not ultimately sign a longer deal, the first being with tight end Eric Green in 1994. He would play out that season and then sign elsewhere in free agency. Jeff Reed was given the franchise tag in 2010, but wouldn’t even finish that season before being cut. Finally, Jason Worilds was given the transition tag in 2014. He had a solid year and was expected to cash in during free agency, but chose instead to retire to pursue religious interests.
That’s 10 times the Steelers have tagged a player, doing so on eight different players. Of the eight, four would sign long-term deals, and only one would see more than half of that deal, that being Carnell Lake. That was 25 years ago.