By Jeremy Hritz
This past week in Steelers Nation was eerily quiet in comparison to the weeks that preceded it. Outside of Plaxico Burress calling Ben Roethlisberger his favorite NFL quarterback, Rod Woodson questioning the hiring of Todd Haley much after the fact, and Aaron Smith saying thank-you to fans with an advertisement in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this has been the calmest week this offseason for the Steelers thus far.
Mark it up as the quiet before the impending storm.
The salary cap number has finally been announced at $120.6 million, and this coming Tuesday, March 13th at 4:00 PM, the floodgates will open, and the much-anticipated free agency period will commence.
This could be the week that clarity comes to the Mike Wallace situation. On Tuesday, the Steelers will give Wallace the first-round tender of $2,742,000. If he receives an offer from another team and accepts it, the Steelers will have the opportunity to match it, yet considering the cap space of potential Wallace suitors (49ers, Patriots, and Bengals), and the dearth of cap space of the Steelers, it will be difficult for the Steelers to match an exorbitant offer.
There has to be more than a touch of anxiety in the Steelers organization being that a deal has yet to be struck with Wallace. The closer the calendar and clock move to the start of free agency makes it more likely that the speedy receiver will sign elsewhere. It is also interesting to note the Steelers’ history of resigning their own free-agent receivers. In the Post-Gazette Sunday, Ed Bouchette pointed out that historically, the Steelers have not been successful in holding on to wide receivers whose contracts have expired. He states “the Steelers have a history of shrugging their shoulders when it comes to giving wide receivers long-term contracts since free agency began. They either did not want to keep them, did not want to pay them what others were willing to do, or they shipped them out and got meager returns before they could become free agents,” and points to those that skipped town such as Yancey Thigpen, Plaxico Burress, and Nate Washington. Wallace signing elsewhere would answer one question, but then initiate another: whom should the Steelers take with their additional first round pick? This would give the Steelers options of either addressing both interior linebacker and the offensive line. They could also consider trading up for a better pick, or trading down for more picks in a deep draft.
Other questions that should be answered this week are which other homegrown free agents will be tendered. Hopefully, the players that have been developed over the last few years such as Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, and Keenan Lewis stay put. It will also be interesting to see the decisions made regarding the inconsistent William Gay, and Jerricho Cotchery, who made some spectacular plays near the end of the 2011 season.
This week could also reveal which other Steelers, if any, will be released. There has been speculation about Jonathan Scott and Casey Hampton getting the axe, and possibly those moves could come this week as well.
Lastly, though the Steelers do not have a lot of cap room to work with, will they surprise us all and go after a big name free agent? While the answer is probably no, stranger things have happened.
This should be an intriguing and louder week for Steelers fans, and we may have a better idea of what the Steelers roster will look like come in Latrobe come July.
Bring the noise.