The franchise tag deadline came and went on Monday and as expected the Pittsburgh Steelers did not use the franchise tag on restricted free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace. Instead Wallace will be tendered at the first round level of around $2.74 million.
For starters, the Steelers did not have the cap room available to place the near $9.5 million franchise tag on Wallace even after all of the restructures and recent terminations this offseason. Even if they had cleared more room to accommodate that amount, they would have lost the upper hand in the negotiations of getting a new deal done as Wallace and his agent Bus Cook know that the Steelers would have to get that number down to a more manageable first year cap hit as soon as possible with a new deal.
By placing just a first round tender on Wallace the Steelers still have the upper hand and general manager Kevin Colbert has not been shy in telling the media that they control whether or not Wallace ultimately leaves or not. Should a new deal not be reached by the time free agency begins early next week, they will have right to match any offer sheet that Wallace receives from another team.
Now Wallace has risk involved too should he not sign a new deal before free agency begins. First off, I think we can all agree that there will only be a few teams that can remotely be considered threats to sign him to an offer sheet. Realistically those teams are the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers. That has long been established. The offer sheet they would have to sign Wallace to would need to be one that included a roster bonus or other guaranteed money in year one that would make the first year cap hit one that the Steelers could not stomach to match, and it must be a contract big enough to meet what Wallace and his agent think he is worth as well.
Now the odds are against that happening as Bob Labriola brought back to everyone\’s attention on Tuesday when he reiterated that no restricted free agent carrying a first-round tender has signed an offer sheet in the last 10 years league-wide. Wallace runs a huge risk of getting no offer sheets and thus left with only the $2.74 million one-year tender as his only option. We have no idea what is being said in the current contract negotiations with Wallace and Cook, but I am sure they are aware that the Steelers might be happy just to ride that low tender all season long and they will not be in a hurry to get a new deal done with Wallace, much like Wallace would be in no hurry to get a new deal done if he were wearing the franchise tag. In other words Wallace runs the risk of missing out on his big pay day this year and he better hope he does not have a big injury or a severe drop off in play or his market value decreases big time.
Now Wallace could of course hold out if the first round tender is his only option when the free agency smoke clears, but once again that would hurt his market value going forward, especially if he were to sit out the entire season. Add to that the fact that I think Wallace would lose credit for an accrued season and thus would not qualify to be an unrestricted free agent. So basically he would be back in the same boat that he is in this year. He loses there for sure.
I know it is all about the money, but you know deep down inside that Wallace would rather not leave Pittsburgh despite what he said in his interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio a few weeks ago. That was pure posturing as I said at the time and I still firmly believe that. You can bet that several of his teammates are letting him know that they understand that he has to do, what he has to do, but also adding to that the fact that they do not want him to leave.
The Steelers have always been known as a team that does not over pay and that will remain the case with Wallace. The offer on the table right now might not be one that Wallace thinks he deserves, but I am willing to bet that it is not a slap in the face type of offer either. Colbert has played his hand throughout this whole ordeal perfectly in my opinion and Wallace has more risk involved heading into free agency than the Steelers do. At the very worst the Steelers receive a first round draft pick as compensation. The worst thing that can happen for Wallace is him not hitting his big payday. This year or ever.
I know that $2.74 million sounds like a lot of money, but it is not what Wallace wants to play for this year and he certainly does not want another year of risk to go along with it to get to the next opportunity to hit the big payday. Some will refuse to believe it still, but the Steelers still have big leverage here and they made the right decision in not franchising Wallace. I still think a deal gets done before free agency, but if it doesn\’t, I still think he will be a Steeler in 2012.