The Mike Wallace situation has yet to play itself out and already many are worried about the situation the Pittsburgh Steelers will run into next year at this time with wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, both of whom are scheduled to be restricted free agents after the 2012 season.
To start off trying to calm those fears we need to look at the list of players, that at the time of this post, are scheduled to be free agents after the 2012 season, both restricted and unrestricted. The scheduled restricted free agents, in addition to both Brown and Sanders, will be Stevenson Sylvester, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Steve McLendon. The unrestricted types are scheduled to be Will Allen, James Farrior, Larry Foote, Casey Hampton, Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Scott, Aaron Smith, Greg Warren, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy, Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, David Johnson and Jeremy Kapinos. This of course assumes that all 14 of the unrestricted are even on the roster by the time the season starts and we know damn well that a few of them won\’t be. The unrestricted list also assumes that players like Lewis, Legursky, Mundy, Johnson and Foster play under their one-year restricted tenders, that should be issued over the next few weeks, and not extended prior to the start of the 2012 season.
Now let\’s look at the potential priority of all of the free agents listed above after 2012. The only unrestricted name that jumps out is Mendenhall, but he will likely miss at least the first six weeks of the 2012 season due to being on the PUP list to start the season and odds are that he will miss much more than that being as he didn\’t have his ACL surgery until after the season ended. It is pretty safe to say that he will not be worthy of the franchise tag following the season, especially if he misses a good chunk of the 2012 season, like I expect he will. The Steelers will likely leverage his missed time against him, should they decide they want to resign him, and it is not out of the question that Mendenhall may want to test the free agency waters as well.
Now the restricted list of notables of course includes Brown, Sanders and Redman. It is really unfair though to include Sanders on this list right now because he only has 50 career regular season catches for 664 yards to go along with 4 touchdowns in two seasons. Not exactly franchise tag material right now. Of course if he puts up a 1,000 yard receiving performance in 2012, we can talk, but until then he looks like a player that will at best receive a first round restricted tender. Notice I said, at best. Realistically he will be in line for an original round tender as we sit here a year out and that should be enough to retain him.
While Redman will certainly get every opportunity to prove he is an every down, top tier running back in 2012, which he certainly can be, at best he will be worthy of a first round restrictive tender and not the franchise tag. Why you ask? For one thing it will just be one full season of heavy work, no matter how good it might be and second, the teams around the league look at the running back position as a fungible one, meaning that they are easily exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part.
Now that I have hopefully eased all of your minds in regards to Mendenhall, Sanders and Redman, that leaves us with Brown. Regardless of what happens with Wallace over the course of the next few weeks, Brown certainly has the ability to put up another 1,000 plus yard season. He still has a few knocks on him, like every other young receiver does, with one of them being his lack of touchdowns, which hopefully should increase in 2012. He does offer the ability to return both kicks and punts, but early indications are that Sanders will handle that role next season if healthy. We also do not know exactly how new offensive coordinator Todd Haley will affect his stats in 2012 either. Will the Steelers run more next season? Will there be more short, intermediate type passes. Will the running backs be more involved in the passing game? We just don\’t know the answers to those questions right now.
Brown certainly could have a monster season and that could indeed put the onus on the Steelers once again to have to put either a first round restricted tender, or even the franchise tag on him. The Steelers 2013 salary cap situation though looks a lot more workable right now by my early projections, as the shift to a younger roster is on. The problem with Wallace this year, as I have said in a previous post, is that the Steelers are very vulnerable salary cap wise, and in addition to that, they have no depth at the position should Hines Ward and Jerricho Cotchery not be back in 2012 and they somehow are not able to retain Wallace.
Even if Wallace is retained, which I fully expect he will be, the Steelers are likely to add yet another young wide receiver in the draft. While it might look like a pending dilemma a year out with the current Wallace situation staring us right in the face, I personally do not see it as a big concern. They should have no problem retaining both Brown and Sanders if they choose to do so.