By Cian Fahey
It is unlikely that Mike Wallace leaves the Pittsburgh Steelers when free agency begins next week but the chance remains as Wallace is a restricted free agent (breaking news I know). In my mind, there are two teams who could likely make a run at Wallace.
Those teams are the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers.
If the Patriots sign Wallace, the Steelers will get the 31st pick in the draft. If the 49ers sign Wallace, then the team will get the 30th overall selection. The Steelers would have the option of using that selection on a receiver but wouldn\’t be forced to because they have other avenues of replacing Wallace.
Even with Hines Ward\’s release, the Steelers still have two other receivers capable of starting in the form of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders and Brown are the only two remaining wide receivers the team has under contract from last season\’s 53 man roster after Arnaz Battle was released and Jerricho Cotchery is a free agent.
Re-signing Cotchery would be a must if Wallace leaves.
Cotchery was the team\’s third choice receiver by season\’s close and would allow the team some continuity with a new offensive co-ordinator coming in. Re-signing Cotchery would mean that the team would just have to find a fourth receiver on their depth chart. Something that they have proven they can do in the latter rounds of the draft in the past.
Kevin Colbert has built the team\’s current receiving corp with two third round picks and a sixth rounder. Bringing in a receiver later in the draft, or adding a free agent of that caliber, is a plausible route for the franchise to go.
Going that way would allow the team to use the two first round draft picks to improve other areas of the team.
Depending on how much faith the coaching staff and management has in Sanders stepping up into a starting role, or indeed bringing back Cotchery as a starter, the Steelers will either need to sign a number three or number one receiver.
This year\’s free agent market has options for both.
Eddie Royal, Cotchery, Steve Smith, Patrick Crayton and Lee Evans could all be capable depth players for the Steelers. The most intriguing potential role player the Steelers could sign is Ted Ginn Jr. of the 49ers.
Much like Wallace was used as a rookie, Ginn could be used as the third receiver to simply stretch the defense. While he may not be as effective as Wallace, he could fill the role to complement the other players around him.
If the Steelers want to be more adventurous and aggressive, they could make a move for a starting receiver. Vincent Jackson won\’t come cheap, and is likely not an option because of his character, but Marques Colston and Brandon Lloyd are relatively cheap options.
The biggest worry with signing Colston would be the cold weather in Pittsburgh. Colston has spent his entire career playing in New Orleans in a dome. Asking him to make tough receptions down the field, or over the middle, is a different thing come playoff time in Pittsburgh.
Lloyd is a very intriguing option because he possesses a lot of speed, not as much as Wallace but he can fill the same role as a starter. The biggest problem with bringing Lloyd in is the competition. Lloyd should be a hot property with the St. Louis Rams and Patriots expected to be fighting for his signature.
Those free agents are more realistic options, but there is a less likely player that the Steelers should consider.
Generally when a 35 year old receiver comes out of retirement, I\’m the first to write him off. However, Randy Moss is a special case. Moss retired before last season after being cut by the Patriots and released by the Vikings the previous year.
Moss had a horrible final season in the NFL, but not for the same reasons most aging receivers do. He obviously never overcame being cut by the Patriots and it affected his season mentally. Moss\’ physical attributes were still there, but he had no interest in playing football.
He could repeatedly be seen not trying and giving up on plays.
A year out of football appears to have made Moss hungry to return. Unlike his last season, when he was infatuated by a new contract entering the season, Moss has already said that he would play for no guaranteed money this year if he gets an opportunity.
He got a chance to workout with the New Orleans Saints recently and supposedly couldn\’t have looked better. If Moss has his physical skills still in tact, even if he has suffered some drop off he was so far ahead of everyone else physically that he would still be a starting caliber receiver, and is motivated to play, it could be a major coup for the Steelers.
The risk of course is that the Steelers no longer have the veteran locker room that they had last year with an emotive offensive coordinator and quarterback in place.
Moss would be a risk, but the reward has to be tempting.
In an ideal world, Wallace will be re-signed to a long-term deal before ever hitting free agency. These situations have to be explored until that moment arrives however.
What do you think the Steelers should do if Wallace leaves?
You can follow Cian on Twitter at @Cianaf