Source: Woodley likely to be free agent

Updated: July 12, 2010, 3:55 PM ET
By James Walker | ESPN.com

Barring an unforeseen change of circumstances, a Pro Bowl linebacker could hit the free-agent market next season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have decided not to give outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley a contract extension before the start of the 2010 season, a source told ESPN.com on Monday. Woodley is in the final year of his rookie deal and will make $550,000 this season, making him one of the NFL's best bargains.

It's extremely rare that the Steelers negotiate with players during the season, which means Woodley would be set to become a free agent next March. The source added that it's highly unlikely the Steelers would change their stance on Woodley between now and September. Pittsburgh is primarily focused on filling its right tackle position and could spend money there following the season-ending Achilles injury to Willie Colon.

Woodley is facing the same dilemma as a lot of NFL players seeking extensions this offseason. New rules during the uncapped year have made things complicated. The league's 30 percent rule, in particular, is the biggest hurdle.

By rule, Woodley could only make a maximum salary of $598,000 in 2010, which is a 30 percent increase over last season. The subsequent salaries could only go up 30 percent for the life of the contract. That means a substantial bulk of an extension would be put into bonuses, which the Steelers are not interested in at this time.

A one-year franchise tag for Woodley also is a possibility, although there are no guarantees that the use of a franchise tag will be included in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Woodley, 25, has been one of the league's most dominant outside linebackers during his first two years as a starter. He has combined for 25 sacks in that span and made his first Pro Bowl last season.

James Walker covers the AFC North for ESPN.com

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter