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Woodley accepts big contract, knows he has big responsibility

LaMarr Woodley didn't groan six months ago when the Pittsburgh Steelers slapped him with a franchise tag.

He didn't panic, either. His goal always was to remain with the defending AFC champions, and the news of the contract that will keep him in black and gold was so good, he couldn't keep it to himself.

Rather than get some extra rest entering the second week of training camp, Woodley took to Twitter around 6 a.m. ET Friday to break the news about his six-year, $61.5 million contract.

"I set my alarm, and I decided I was going to tweet this first thing in the morning," said Woodley, who also posted a Facebook photo of himself looking over the contract paperwork. "That was the whole thing --- breaking the story first."

Figures. It's Woodley's way to be in a rush.

The deal makes the linebacker one of the highest-paid NFL players at his position while also providing the team with a little salary-cap relief.

The Steelers were $10 million over the league's $120.4 million salary cap when camp began, and that figure included the one-year, $10 million contract tendered to Woodley by the team in February when it designated him with the franchise tag. The Steelers then released veterans Max Starks, Flozell Adams and Antwaan Randle El to shed payroll, and quarterback Ben Roethlisbergeragreed to restructure the eight-year, $102 million contract he signed in 2008.

Woodley's new deal is front-loaded with bonus money, helping the Steelers find even more breathing room under the cap. A league source told NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora that Woodley will make $18.1 million in the first year and $27 million in the first two years of contract, which is the second-richest in franchise history.

Woodley was only too happy to move around the numbers to make his contract cap-friendly. All that really mattered was the opportunity to stay in Pittsburgh.

"That's something I wanted to happen when I first came in the door and saw the great linebackers who had come through here," said Woodley, whose deal exceeds the six-year, $51.75 million contract that Steelers teammate James Harrison signed last year. "I wanted to be a part of that great tradition and history around here, but to do that I had to be around here. Definitely I have my opportunity to leave my stamp when I'm done playing here."

The Steelers have a history of giving long-term deals to players on whom they used the franchise tag. They tagged offensive tackle Starks in 2009, then signed him to a four-year deal four months later. Last year, they were ready to use the designation on nose tackle Casey Hampton but instead signed him to a three-year deal and tagged kicker Jeff Reed.

This time, it was Woodley, whose 35 sacks since 2008 rank fourth in the NFL. He's also one of just five players (Harrison, Dwight Freeney, Jared Allen and DeMarcus Ware) to post double-digit sacks in each of the last three years.

Woodley has spent four seasons in Pittsburgh, which selected him in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He helped the Steelers win the Super Bowl in the 2008 season, and he made the Pro Bowl the next year. He had a $550,000 base salary last season, when he posted 10 sacks and helped his team reach the Super Bowl.

Woodley, fellow linebacker Lawrence Timmons and defensive linemen Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward are considered the key core players on a still talented but aging Pittsburgh defense. Eight starters will be at least 30 years old when the season begins Sept. 11, and Woodley understands his contract means he needs to take on a leadership role.

That's fine by him. He knows his big payday comes with big expectations. He's hoping to exceed them.

"People are going to expect a lot out of you because of the money you signed for, but you should expect a lot of yourself anyway, regardless of the money you sign for," he said. "I'm a competitive person, and if I didn't sign that contract, I'd still go out and give my all. Last year, I didn't have a (long-term) contract, but I still went out and gave my all because that's the kind of person I am."

The signing gives the Steelers some continuity at linebacker as longtime stars such as Harrison and James Farrior enter the twilight of their careers. The team also is expected to approach 25-year-old Timmons in the near future about a contract extension.

Woodley's massive payday didn't go unnoticed by his teammates. They jumped on him the second he sat down to eat breakfast.

"Somebody asked me if I was going to buy an island," Woodley said. "Am I going to buy a yacht? All kinds of jokes. Dinner on me. Everything. They want me to get rid of my old Buick Roadmaster car I got. I can't get rid of that."

NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora, NFL Network reporter Albert Breer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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