Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley hasn't been informed formally yet, but he is "fully expecting" to be designated as the team's franchise player within the next two weeks, according to a source.
The hope, on both sides, is that it leads to a long-term deal for the rising 26-year-old pass-rusher, as it has for other Steelers tagged in recent years.
Pittsburgh tagged tackle Max Starks in 2009, and signed him to a four-year deal four months later. Last year, the team was ready to tag nose tackle Casey Hampton, but it instead signed him to a three-year deal just before the deadline to franchise players and tagged kicker Jeff Reed instead.
Woodley would receive the linebacker tag salary, which is expected to exceed $10 million, but could argue that he deserves a hybrid end/linebacker figure like the one Terrell Suggs received in 2009. The defensive end franchise number is expected to come at more than $13 million.
Woodley's 35 sacks since 2008 rank fourth in the NFL, and he's one of just five players (Dwight Freeney, James Harrison, Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware) to post double-digit sacks in each of the last three years.
Because of the 30 percent rule, it's nearly impossible for Pittsburgh and Woodley to work out a long-term deal now, since he made just $550,000 in base salary in 2010, and that number can only go up by increments of $165,000 (30 percent of his final year on the old deal) in each year of a new deal.