Steelers Still Hold Strong Leverage With Mike Wallace

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.

  • Joe D

    Assume Steelers rideout 2012 with rfa tender of 2.74 million…
    Can Steelers put a franchise tag on him for 2013??

    In my opinion, Wallace is worth about $40million for 5 year deal…. how that is structured.. who knows.

  • Will

    How do you fail to mention that prior to this year, the RFA tender was a 1st and 3rd round pick? That is a huge deterrent. There is a better chance that Wallace will walk out of Pittsburgh since his new team would only have to give a 1st to the Steelers. Bad cap management has put the Steelers in this compromising position.

  • SteelersDepot

    I have mentioned several times in previous post that the 1st & 3rd type tender is no more. Don’t forget that the 1st round tender existed even when there was a 1st & 3rd round tender.

  • Tom

    Wallace dropped a number of balls this year, especially in cold weather. That was one reason for his decline in production toward the end of the year as the weather got colder.

    Hope this isn’t a trend that continues.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I don’t see San Fran making a run at him, I think they will spend on a seasoned vet. I still predict Hines Ward ends up there. They need a vet. He fits the offense. He can still find holes against zone D. He would be a good fit there.

  • kevin

    The Steelers could franchise Wallace next year. I believe that they could do that even if they franchised him this year, but the franchise rules make it prohibitive to franchise a guy multiple times, which is why Vincent Jackson would be eligible for 13 million or so rather than 9 million. That is what I have read about it.

  • A much worse receiver just signed for a little less then that so while that might be a reasonable IYO or home town discount it isn’t a free agent value and surely isn’t what Wallace is thinking he could get if he waits.

    They can tag him next year which is the risk he runs, in addition to a lower number this year, if he waits until next year and doesn’t get a restricted FA offer this year.

  • Paul

    Wallace dropped off because Ben was hurt, bad foot and thumb. Can’t believe that people forget that stuff. The offensive line was in a funk with injuries too. Wallace will be back and they can deal with a contract next year. Or maybe not. Steelers are in this situation because they sign most mid and low round draft picks to 3 year contracts. Some teams like to do them at 4 years. New England comes to mind. Johnson in Buffalo was an UFA and could leave without compensation. He dropped a ball in the end zone against the Steelers and made a fool of himself. Coincidentally in the same game on a play when the Steelers had the ball Ben threw a short sideline pass to Wallace and he dropped it as well. Wallace would have scored had he hung on to the ball.

  • Steelerfanmatt1933

    Agreed, Dave.

    The Steelers still hold the cards and have control over the situation. If someone offers Wallace “stupid money”, they will let him walk and take the pick. However, my gut says he’ll be back.

    When Art II said Wallace was the team’s top offseason priority, you have to believe they will keep him in the fold.

  • Guest

    Yes, but in the past, the better players were given 1st & 3rd round tenders, while the lower rung players got only a 1st round tender. Wallace is a top tier RFA, and most likely would have gotten a 1st & 3rd rd tender if it existed under the current CBA. Since the top tier RFA will “only” cost a 1st rd pick, the situation might be different with Wallace. I don’t believe either side is holding all the cards. Both have a lot to loose. With only Brown & Sanders under contract at WR, it makes sense to retain Wallace over a possible low 1st rd pick, especially with the injury history of Sanders.

  • I still haven’t figured out how card holding, upper hands or Chinese tea prices effect anything related to Wallace.

    Does anyone have a link to a leverage scoring system?

    I do think the new tender rules make comparisons with history irrelevant and the new CBA rules and upcoming TV contract are new forces that will also change how things are done.

    The Steelers are, IMHO, holding very few cards and, in exchange for keeping Ward and Smith on the roster last year are now forced to risk losing a skill player with fairly unique ability that is young and proven.

    The bottom line is we could have had complete control over him for the next year or two and now we might lose him next week. You can’t really spin that as having control.

  • Joe D

    Below is a link to free agent WR’s…
    I would have to agree, Steelers are in the drivers seat…
    lots of others to pick from without giving up a 1st round pick!!!

  • Pete

    Thank you! I’ve been thinking the same thing. And for those who think “only a 1st round pick” is like pocket change, a 1st round pick is even more valuable today than it was in the past as Colbert said recently. Teams will not be flocking to give a 1st round pick. Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette said he wouldn’t be surprised if Wallace had no offers. I’m inclined to agree. I like your analysis, Dave, especially the idea that Colbert has a strong hand.

  • Dan

    I agree Emac2. It would seem to me that there approximately 32 teams in the league that would like a very fast WR on their roster. And there are likely many teams that would take a known commodity over the crap-shoot that is the NFL draft. And there are likely a few teams that might like to drive up to price of a Steeler player for a (cap) competitive advantage. Certainly, Wallace will receive some offers, the question is how to those offers compare to the numbers Cook and Khan are currently discussing, and are the offers matchable.

  • Guest

    Why do you believe that only NE, Cinci, & SF have a realistic shot at signing Wallace? I would take NE (they franchised Welker, and paying Wallace & Welker would be too much money tied to one position) and Cinci (Brown is too cheap to pay for Wallace) off. I wonder why there is no mention of the Bears (#19 pick, in need of a WR, more cap room than NE). What about the Titans (#20 pick & way under cap)? Other than Britt who missed time due to injury & off-field issues, they are lacking at WR. Is it possible for you to do a story on teams that would seriously consider Wallace?