It is time to have a player by player look at the Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Free Agents and do a complete breakdown of their 2011 season and look ahead to their pending 2012 free agency situation. I will start with the restricted free agents and then move on to the unrestricted and exclusive free agents. To kick this series off I will start with wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Player: Mike Wallace
Position: Wide Receiver
Experience: 3 Years
Free Agent Status: Restricted
2011 Salary Cap Hit: $710,168.00
2011 Season Breakdown: Wallace had a torrid start to the 2011 season up until the bye week as he totaled 53 catches for 922 yards and 6 touchdowns. That equated to an obscene 17.4 yards per reception. He was targeted 74 times through those first 10 games and had a 72% catch percentage. This computes to a stellar 12.5 yards per target. He was on pace for 1474 yards and 10 touchdowns and had appeared to have shaken the "one trick pony" tag that head coach Mike Tomlin had given him through his first two seasons as he was catching passes in every area of the field, against all types of coverages and bracketing. He truly was showing characteristics of a true all around receiver.
Following the bye week Wallace saw his production drop drastically. Over the last 6 regular season game he had just 19 receptions for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns. His yards per reception dropped to 14.3 and while still not bad, his catch ratio fell to 49% as he was targeted 39 times over the last 6 games. This dropped his yards per target to a very average 6.95. His route running seemed to get a little sloppier than it had been through the first 10 games and he never seemed to be the same receiver after being separated from the ball by Pacman Jones early in the week 13 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Wallace also reverted back to catching quite a few balls with his body more, a big knock on him coming out of college. The biggest evidence of this was in the week 15 game against the St. Louis Rams and in the AFC Wild Card game against the Denver Broncos. Against the Rams it almost cost him a long catch from Charlie Batch and it did cost him dearly on the overturned play against the Broncos.
The only other real knock on Wallace is his run blocking. While we did see some improvement in a few games this past season, it was not enough and very inconsistent. It is not like he is counted on to block on every single run play, but he needs to be more accountable on runs to his side on plays that call for it. He still has tremendous speed though and that will always be his greatest asset and he is great after the catch.
It really is hard to put a finger on why exactly Wallace tailed off in the last third of the season. Part of it can be attributed to the accuracy problems of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and perhaps he was a little dinged up as well. He also became second fiddle to Antonio Brown as the year went on. On the surface it seems like he has reverted back to just a homerun threat, but I know he is indeed much more than that as I have seen it. An offseason of hard work dedicated to more crisper route running and focusing on catching more with his hands can have him easily a candidate to come back with a 1,400 yard season in 2012. Despite his drop off in production, Wallace remains one of the most dangerous receivers in the league and will be going to the Pro Bowl for his efforts in 2011.
Free Agency Outlook: Wallace is a restricted free agent and I expect the Steelers will tender him at a first round level. While the one year restricted tender amounts are not yet known, several project it to be around $2.8 million, but it could be higher. The Steelers will likely then work on getting him signed to a 4 or 5 year deal at that point before free agency begins. Should Wallace not be re-signed by the start of free agency, and another team makes a run at him, the Steelers will have a chance to match the offer sheet or receive a first round pick in return from the team that signs him away. I gauge his market value at around 4 years for $36 million or 5 years $45 million. It is not totally out of the question that another team could make a run at him despite the 1st round pick involved in getting him, but in the end I think he is inked to a new deal with the Steelers by the time the draft rolls around. He has earned it and is worth it.
Other 2012 Steelers Free Agent Player Analysis
Keenan Lewis - Restricted Free Agent
Doug Legursky - Restricted Free Agent
Ramon Foster - Restricted Free Agent
David Johnson - Restricted Free Agent
Ryan Mundy - Restricted Free Agent
Jamon Meredith - Restricted Free Agent
Jerricho Cotchery - Unestricted Free Agent
Max Starks - Unestricted Free Agent
Mewelde Moore - Unestricted Free Agent
Byron Leftwich - Unestricted Free Agent
Charlie Batch - Unestricted Free Agent
Dennis Dixon - Unestricted Free Agent
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