Alleged Outside Interest for Steelers WR Mike Wallace Most Likely a Smoke Screen
Lets put our "Other Team" hats on for a moment.
Just a quick moment. I know they fit terribly. Been reports of awful odors, too.
The trendy argument today suggests dual reasons behind a team, particularly one from the AFC, giving Steelers WR Mike Wallace a front-loaded multi-year contract offer when restricted free agency opens (March 13). Many teams, good ones in particular, could sign the game's best deep threat while only parting ways with a low-first round draft pick.
Their argument continues they could help cripple the Steelers at the same time. The logic makes sense, but the practicality is off quite a bit.
What's more likely is other teams are simply floating rumors of their interest in Wallace to get the cap-strapped Steelers to slap the franchise tag on him, instead of simply giving him a high-level tender as a restricted free agent. Why bother overpaying for another team's free agents when you can indirectly steer that team to do it themselves?
Every team would want a player of Wallace's caliber on their roster, but only for the right price. From Wallace's perspective, he gains negotiating leverage if he gets a franchise tag from Pittsburgh. If they're willing to give him (estimated) $ 9.6 million this season under the tag, he's going to want a large chunk of that very soon in a long-term extension. Other teams are likely to figure this out, and it won't cost them a dime to simply tell a beat reporter they're interested in Wallace, and let the Speculation Machine that runs NFL off-season news do its thing.
Let's take some of the alleged front-runners who seem to be in a good position in terms of picks and cap room to sign Wallace in restricted free agency.
The Patriots would be offering Wallace a multi-year deal along with the guaranteed up-front money of the franchise tag, which they will likely be giving WR Wes Welker, a guy who's been the heart-and-soul of their receiving corps since he arrived there in 2007.
If they're willing to risk or destroy long-term negotiations with Welker for the sake of signing Wallace, we'd have to ask ourselves which team is it actually hurting. Considering the Patriots chose WR Brandon Tate (now with Cincinnati) one pick ahead of Wallace in the 2009 draft, logically, they would be thinking of simply looking into the draft to find the deep threat they allegedly covet.
Would anyone put underhanded and devious practices past the Patriots?
As for the Bengals, since when does the fact they're $ 60 million under the cap affect their long-standing policy of not paying their players much? Their legendary tight-fistedness makes them spend to the floor, not the ceiling. Wallace's value and impact on the game is unquestioned, but using both of their first-round picks to more evenly build talent on an up-and-coming team for less seems much closer in line to Cincinnati's modus operendi than going out and trading picks for a player plus a huge contract.
Besides, they were a highly competitive 10-6 team with a rookie quarterback, and they aren't going to lose anyone this offseason. Two first-round picks on players who will cost approximately 25 percent combined of what they'd have to pay Wallace is more their style.
The Ravens signed Anquan Boldin to a four-year, $ 28 million contract in 2010, and will earn $ 6 million in each of the next two seasons. Outside of their failed attempt to acquire Terrell Owens in 2004, have never made a play for a receiver at such a high price. In fact, the botched deal for T.O. was for a second round pick, and it's extremely difficult to argue Owens in 2004 (77 catches, 1,200 yards, 15.8 ypc, 14 touchdowns) was a less productive player than Wallace in 2011.
The Patriots (27 and 31), Browns (4 and 22) and Bengals (17 and 21) are the three teams with two first-round picks. The Browns, like the Patriots, will have to franchise a player (LB D'Qwell Jackson), which will leave them with little cap space to make a play for Wallace. While they'd have perhaps an easier time of doing that than Pittsburgh will, it's still not going to be easy. At least the Steelers can convince veterans to restructure contracts based on the idea of continuing to win by keeping their own. It'd be harder to do that for a mercenary, like Wallace.
Besides, it was WR Antonio Brown - and not Wallace - who shredded the Browns in two games last season.
All that being said though, it would still be reasonable to try to clear enough money to franchise Wallace, despite the fact that he is technically just a restricted free agent. The Steelers would then follow the usual course of action for franchise players and try to lower that cap hit by signing him to a long-term deal before the start of the regular season. All of the leverage would be on Wallace's side, but it would be a sincere way to try to retain his services long-term and would be equitable for all parties involved (the team, Wallace, and the veterans that would need to restructure their own deals).
The truth, perhaps the unfortunate truth, is that the Steelers may be forced by the cap to call the bluff. If so, all of the talk - which is likely just a smokescreen right now - could end up having some real teeth.
Source: Behind the Steel Curtain