With the 2012 NFL combine getting started on Wednesday, I thought now would be the perfect time to give my gut feeling thoughts on what will happen with Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace.
I have talked extensively about the options the Steelers have in regards to placing a first round tender or using the franchise tag on Wallace, but as I mentioned in the podcast last Friday, the best case solution is to just have him signed to a long term deal before having to use either of those on him.
Using just a first round tender is mighty risky, even though it returns a first round pick as compensation. The franchise tag of $9.4 million would buy the Steelers time and an extra layer of protection in an additional first round pick, but that is time the Steelers do not have in regards to the salary cap. They can not risk simply placing the franchise tag on Wallace and he holding the Steelers hostage to get a new deal done that might be well over what they have his market value at. If they had the extra cap room to play with they could do this, but they don\'t and several other roster decisions and restructures hang in the balance right now. March 5th is the deadline for applying both tenders and the franchise tag on free agents, and March 13th the Steelers need to be compliant with the cap. That is not enough time to play with a franchise tag.
While the talk of both the tender and the franchise tag as been fun to discuss, we all seem to forget what team president Art Rooney II said in his end of season interviews with the media that signing Wallace to a long-term deal is a priority. When he says things are a priority, I believe him.
If you go back a few seasons ago when Casey Hampton was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, Rooney II said in his after the season talk with the media that the line for the Steelers re-signing their own free agents forms behind Hampton. They did have the franchise tag to use on him as a last resort, but Hampton agreed to a new three-year contract on February 25, 2010, that was the second day of the 2010 NFL combine.
So here we are now in a similar scenario with Wallace. Many might ask why wouldn\'t Wallace and his agent Bus Cook play a little hard ball and try to force the Steelers to use the franchise tag on him and let it be the Steelers problem to get a new deal done if they really want to protect him in free agency. The answer is that if the Steelers use the franchise tag, Wallace is almost assurely theirs for the year and his market price could go down with an off season or god forbid a season ending injury. That $9.4 million he would make in 2012 could end up being his last big pay day. So basically until the Steelers use a tender or a tag on Wallace, they still have a little leverage in negotiations. Add on top of this that general manager Kevin Colbert threw out the notion pretty easily to the media that they were not ruling out using the franchise tag on Wallace to keep him. You think that was a message? I do.
You have to imagine that both Colbert and chief contract negotiator Omar Khan have already had a few preliminary talks with Cook and the NFL combine is a perfect time for everyone to come together and hammer out the final details of a new deal. I firmly believe that both sides truly want to get a deal done and I firmly believe that Wallace wants to remain in Pittsburgh as well.
While we are not yet in the 11th hour, the clock is certainly ticking down and it would not surprise me one bit to see a deal reached over the course of this next week. I originally estimated that the market value of Wallace would average out to be about 9 million a season, but after looking around at some comparative numbers and contracts from around the league, I think an average of $7 million is really more realistic. In fact it would not surprise me if it was a contract similar to the one that Ike Taylor signed last season. That deal was for four years and totaled out at $28 million. It included a $7.25 million signing bonus and a believed roster bonus of $750 thousand as well. The first year guaranteed money ended up being $9.25 million when you add in his $1.25 million base salary. That $9.25 million just happens to almost be the price of the wide receiver franchise tag this year. Maybe it will be 4 years $30 million at best, but that is where I think the numbers will come in at for Wallace.
If the Steelers come away from the combine without a new deal, then it might be time to panic a little more, but when Rooney II says a player is a priority, I believe him. My gut tells me we will not have to worry about a first round tender or a franchise tag as I firmly believe a new deal gets done before March 5th.