420 day is here, and while I am pretty sure what that might mean to some of you, to me it means that Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert has won his restricted free agent chicken fight with wide receiver Mike Wallace. In fact Colbert has now won six of those fights this offseason as Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, David Johnson, Keenan Lewis and Ryan Mundy were easy slam dunk wins.
The deadline for teams to sign restricted free agents to an offer sheet is 4 p.m. today and while some might think I am proclaiming a win for Colbert and the Steelers too early, the reality is that this chicken fight has been over for quite a while.
Colbert never wavered in regards to the Wallace restricted free agency situation, as he has stated all along that he and the Steelers have the final say on whether or not he stays in Pittsburgh should he have wound up getting an offer from another team. The speculation was heavy that teams like the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers would surely sign Wallace to a front loaded offer sheet that the Steelers would not be able to match because of salary cap room reasons, and that they would easily pay the price of a first round draft pick to do just that. Many emphatically stated that Wallace was as good as gone once free agency got underway.
Once the deadline passes later on today, the Steelers leverage with Wallace increases even more. Reports have surfaced, although not confirmed by the Wallace camp, that the Steelers fourth year receiver will not sign his tender, and is willing to not report to offseason workouts until a long term deal is reached. The Steelers will gladly sit and wait for Wallace to ultimately cave, and he will, as he stands to have his one-year restricted tender reduced from $2.742 million down to $577,500 if he does not sign it by June 15th. Wallace could just shrug his shoulders at that and continue his holdout in hopes of forcing the Steelers hand once training camp arrives, but he won\’t.
Both Colbert and team president Art Rooney II have stated since the 2011 season ended that signing Wallace to a long term deal was a priority. Wallace reportedly wants Larry Fitzgerald type money, although his camp has never confirmed that report either, and he is not going to get that from the Steelers. The Steelers want to reward him with a long term deal, but it will be one that is more palatable to them.
Over the course of the last few weeks it has been speculated that Wallace might be traded on draft day. That is very unlikely to happen unless a team knocks the Steelers socks off with an offer they can\’t refuse. Keep in mind that Wallace still wants that big contract as well, so if a team wanted him badly enough, they would have signed him to an offer sheet before the deadline. Why would they give up even more to get him on draft day? In addition, the Steelers would set a bad precedent for the future by trading a player that is demanding more money.
So what happens if Wallace signs his one-year tender and a new contract can\’t be reached prior to the start of the 2012 season? Plain and simple it means 2012 will be the last season Wallace plays in Pittsburgh. While the Steelers would have the franchise tag at their disposal next off-season to use on him, they won\’t. They merely will let him walk off into the free agency sunset much in the same the way they allowed Plaxico Burress to do so several years ago. They will move on with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, both of whom will be restricted free agents next offseason, and never look back. They will receive a compensatory draft pick for their loss of Wallace the following offseason, and it will likely equate closely to what they paid for him in the first place, a third round draft pick.
The ball, or the football I should say, will be in the court of Wallace at 4 p.m. eastern today. It is up to him as to whether or not he wants to remain a Steeler long term, like he has claimed that he wants to be. He has lost his game of chicken to Colbert now and stands to lose money if he does not sign that tender by the middle of June. Will he be a Steeler long term? Only he knows that answer.
Happy 420 day everyone! When you add those numbers together you get 6. That is the exact number of restricted free agents that Colbert did not lose to free agency in the chicken fights. In Colbert we trust!
Final score: Kevin Colbert 6 Mike Wallace 0