By Jeremy Hritz
In 2005, the Pittsburgh Steelers won a Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks with receivers Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El, and Cedrick Wilson. Again in 2008, the Steelers captured their sixth Lombardi against another NFC West opponent in the Arizona Cardinals with Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Nate Washington. Wilson, Randle El, and Washington were solid, Holmes was clutch, and Ward is a future Hall of Famer. Outside of Washington, none of these guys were burners who could successfully get vertical, but they were all reliable and able to be depended on for earning crucial first downs.
Mike Wallace has been an incredible talent for the Steelers over the last three seasons, amassing over 3,200 yards and 24 total receiving touchdowns. He began 2011 season all fireworks and hand grenades, but his production mysteriously collapsed during the second act.
With the needs that the Steelers have on the offensive line and at nose tackle, the emergence of Antonio Brown and the potential of Emmanuel Sanders, and the commitment to generating a more effective ground game next year, the Steelers should seriously consider letting Wallace sign with another team.
In no way should Wallace’s accomplishments be overlooked or understated, but what cannot be disregarded is that the Steelers have won Super Bowls with lesser receiving corps than what they would begin the season with next year if they resigned Wallace. The bite of a new contract for Wallace will command some serious math, and that could exacerbate the salary cap obstacle that the Steelers are getting ready to climb over. Letting Wallace walk would also allow for the Steelers to resign Jerricho Cotchery who played well at the end of the season. The Steelers could also look to bring in a cheaper, big-bodied, free-agent wide receiver that could help the team to convert in the red zone, such as Dwayne Bowe or Plaxico Burress, who most likely will not return to the Jets. Or if not in free agency, considering the success that the Steelers have had in drafting wide receivers in the later rounds, they could bring in a young wide-out in the draft.
The Steelers would also acquire another first round pick which would allow them to rejuvenate the aging defense and bring in a game-ready offensive lineman. Imagine starting training camp with Dontari Poe and Cordy Glenn. These players and these positions are going to benefit the team more than keeping Wallace, who does stretch the field for a big play, but he cannot tie up multiple blockers, nor keep Ben Roethlisberger from getting crushed.
The last thing to consider here is that the Steelers are committed to having an effective and smarter running game in 2012. In an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week by Ed Bouchette, he cites a recent interview with the legendary Steeler Joe Greene in which Greene voices his agreement with the team’s move to let Arians walk. In the interview, Greene called the Steelers’ offense under Arians “imbalanced” and lacking of an intelligent offensive strategy. He also went on to say that the play calling and clock usage of the offense resulted in the second loss to Baltimore. Greene, who is a Special Assistant for the Steelers, is surely privy to discussions that have occurred between Mike Tomlin and the Rooneys, and his comments are more than likely a reflection of the sentiment of the organization. With that said, the obsession with the pass that has been a staple of the Steelers during Arians’ tenure, is most likely to shift, not dramatically, but in a noticeable way, making Wallace all the more expendable.
Again, Wallace is a great talent, and more than likely he will return next year. But the long-term benefits that could result from Wallace signing with another team are unable to be ignored. Brown is primed to be a superstar, and Sanders has yet to have a healthy full season. Throw in Heath Miller, Cotchery, and maybe even the old man Ward, and the Steelers passing game could be just as effective in 2012. Yet what is even more important is that the Steelers could start collecting the pieces necessary to get back to playing a football game next February, and maybe even in a few more Februarys after that.