It was reported on Thursday by Jason La Canfora that Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Willie Colon has said he is not willing to take a pay-cut after missing all but one game over the last two seasons due to injuries. Before you go throwing rocks at Colon for not wanting to take that pay-cut, I wanted to paint the back story so you can see where he is coming from.
Colon was drafted by the Steelers in the 4th round of the 2006 NFL draft out of Hostra and was signed to a three-year, $1.3635 million contract, that included a $283,500 signing bonus and three years of league minimum base salaries. Those base salaries were $275,000, $360,000 and $445,000 and only the signing bonus and the first year base really were guaranteed. It should be noted that Colon was the second league wide draft pick out of 255 picks that year to sign a contract with the Houston Texans top overall pick Mario Williams being the other.
During his rookie season Colon was inactive for the first 14 games and then made his first two career starts at right tackle in the final two games after Max Starks went down with a knee injury. In his second season Colon started all 16 games at right tackle as well as the playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He did however have 11 penalties called on him that year that included 5 false starts and 5 holding calls. In his 3rd year in the league Colon started all 16 regular-season games once again at right tackle as well as all three postseason games. Once again the big knock on him was the penalties as he was flagged 13 times in total during the regular season. Outside of the penalties though Colon had a good season and rankled as the 7th best right tackle in the league in 2008 according to Pro Football Focus. He was far from a Pro Bowler, but very consistent and dependable.
After the 2008 season Colon was a restricted free agent and the Steelers thought enough of him to place a first round tender of $2.198 million on him, as they were too concerned another team would have signed him away had the only gave him an original round tender. The low round tender amount at that time was $1.01 million. The good news for Colon was that he had one more year guaranteed with the possibility of hitting the market as an unrestricted free agent after the 2009 season should he put together another good season like he had in 2008. The bad news was that he still didn\’t have the huge payday yet and that there was uncertainty looming as far as free agency went in regards to the CBA.
Colon went on to start all 16 regular season games again at right tackle in 2009 and played every offensive snap as well. He got control of his penalties in addition as he was flagged just 7 times total. 4 times for holding and 3 times for false starts. He allowed just 6 sacks in total and was ranked as the top right tackle in the league according to PFF and the 3rd best tackle overall. Over the course of 3 years as a starter, Colon did not miss a game due to injury. Things were looking good for Colon to finally hit the big payday that every NFL player dreams of, but that was not to happen.
Because there was not a new CBA in place, the league went to an uncapped season in 2010 and the free agency rules were changed because of that. Colon, who was scheduled to be unrestricted, instead was termed a restricted free agent and basically had the proverbial rug ripped out from underneath him. As a restricted free agent the Steelers were allowed to once again tender Colon at the first round level that carried a price tag of only $2.521. For comparison sake the franchise tag on offensive linemen that year was $10.731 million and Colon was not alone as several tackles were screwed out of free agency that year. As a result you had veteran tackles like Chad Clifton getting a three-year, $19.58 million contract from the Green Bay Packers that included $7.5 million in guaranteed money. Had Colon instead been an unrestricted free agent in 2010, there is no doubt in my mind that he would of hit a huge payday, or at the very least he would have had been hit with the franchise tag and likely would have gotten a big payday from the Steelers in the process.
Colon went about his business though as he always had in the past an unfortunately suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon doing agility drills while working out in Pittsburgh in late June. The injury required surgery and Colon was lost for the season as a result. A tough blow for a player that worked so hard to get where he was at.
After recovering from surgery during the 2010 season, Colon was finally ready to become an unrestricted free agent following the lockout. His market value had decreased greatly because of the lost season and the Steelers were prepared to let Colon shop himself around, but the Steelers signed him to a five-year, $29 million contract that included a $6 million signing bonus just hours before the free agency period began Colon reportedly turned down an extra $3 million from the Chicago Bears because he wanted to stay in Pittsburgh so bad.
Fast forward now to week 1 of the 2011 season and Colon tore his right triceps muscle against the Baltimore Ravens. He did not come out of the game after suffering the injury and played all 64 snaps in the blowout loss. He of course needed surgery to repair the injury and was lost for the season once again.
Colon never asked to be injured. All he was looking for was a big payday and has had a string of bad luck due to timing with the CBA as well as with injuries. It should also be noted that Colon cares for his mother who suffers from Lupus, a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder that can attack any organ in the body. He is very active in the Pittsburgh community with his support of the Lupus Foundation and chairs a yearly walk for the disease in addition.
Colon finally got somewhat of a payday prior to the start of the 2011 season and you can see why he would turn down a pay cut after all he has been through. If you want to criticize his play over the years, that is fine. If you want to criticize him for not taking a pay cut, at least you now have the full back story. If you insist on throwing rocks at anyone, throw them at the Steelers. After all they are the ones that gave him the contract.