According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Pittsburgh Steelers have signed center Maurkice Pouncey to a five-year, $44 million extension, bringing his current payday to a six-year, $48 million deal. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette has confirmed the signing:
#Steelers sign Maurkice Pouncey to five-year, $44 M extension, putting him under contract for 6 years at $48 M, sources confirming PFT rept— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) June 12, 2014
The deal is worth more than the five-year, $42 million contract signed by the former highest-paid center, the Cleveland Browns' Alex Mack. And Pouncey's $13 million signing bonus is more than San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will receive in his new deal, as the NFL Network's Albert Breer was quick to point out:
Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey, indeed, gets a $13 million signing bonus, per source. Which is $1 million more than Colin Kaepernick's.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) June 12, 2014
Pouncey, however, is not a quarterback. And he's not Mack, who has never missed a game in his five seasons playing in the NFL. While centers who've made the Pro Bowl three times and the All-Pro team three times (first team once) are not dime-a-dozen, the Steelers have overinflated Pouncey's value in the league and to the team.
Pouncey was set to be a free agent in 2015, so it makes sense the Steelers acted swiftly to ink a new deal. The issue is the amount of money locked up in him, given his injury history and the team's predilection to paying key players a significant amount more than they're worth.
Remember, the Steelers aren't far removed from granting former linebacker LaMarr Woodley a six-year, $61.5 million deal that he benefited from for just three seasons before being released this offseason. Woodley dealt with a string of nagging injuries that held his production down.
Now, the Steelers have given a massive offer to another injury-plagued player, one who they appear to hold in higher regard than almost anyone else on the team:
Steelers regard Maurkice Pouncey their second-best player behind Big Ben R. Thus 5 yr, $44M extension making him NFL's highest paid center.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) June 12, 2014
Is ESPN's Ed Werder right when he says the Steelers see Pouncey as their No. 2 player behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger? The contract appears to say just that.
Pouncey is coming off ACL and MCL tears he suffered in Week 1 of the 2013 season on a cut block misstep performed by guard David DeCastro. The cut block is off the table for the Steelers, and Pouncey is back and healthy. But the knee injury combined with the fact he's played just one 16-game season without missing time puts his reliability into question.
The Steelers were not going to let Pouncey reach free agency without a new deal. The fact that they did this in early June speaks to the sense of urgency they likely felt, considering they do not negotiate during the season as a rule.
However, Pouncey has never ranked higher than 12th among centers in Pro Football Focus' ratings, which came in 2012 (subscription required). Athletically gifted and well suited for the Steelers' turn toward outside zone blocking, he certainly has a lot of value. But he's not in the same caliber as Mack, nor is he worth more in bonuses than a team's starting quarterback.
It's not even about the poor salary-cap situations the Steelers have repeatedly found themselves in recently. Pouncey's deal starts out very team-friendly, with Bouchette noting that the center will make just $1 million in salary and have a cap hit of $3.6 million for 2014. It's the entire value of the contract, the message it sends, that causes unease.
Did the Steelers overpay Maurkice Pouncey?
If Pouncey had never missed a game, like Mack, or had been a consistently top-10 center in his last three seasons, then the size and duration of the contract would make more sense. Granted, the Steelers certainly had to have protected themselves financially in working out this deal with Pouncey, but the face-value numbers don't line up with his ability or his production.
The Steelers have no reason to not keep him around—his pedigree is impressive, if not a little overblown, and there is a high degree of risk in moving on at the position—but locking him down with money he may not be worth is problematic.
The Steelers could have another Woodley on their hands. They should know better than to overpay anyone.