The three day legalized NFL tampering period got underway at midnight, but not without a memo from the league on Friday that clarified what is and isn\’t allowed leading up to the start of the new league year, which commences at 4:00 p.m. eastern on Tuesday.
The league doesn\’t have to worry about the Pittsburgh Steelers doing any legal or illegal tampering as they usually sit on the sidelines quietly and watch the action this time of year.
While the Steelers aren\’t likely to be on the phone right now with agents of players from other teams, other teams are more than likely already on the phone with the agents of a few of the Steelers soon-to-be unrestricted free agents. Most notably, wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis, running back Rashard Mendenhall and guard Ramon Foster.
Wallace is considered one of the biggest fish on the market heading into Tuesday. The Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and the Cleveland Browns are three teams that could likely land Wallace within just a few hours of the free agency signing period beginning. The New England Patriots might also be a dark horse for his services. Rest assured, Wallace will have a new home come sometime Wednesday, and more than likely a contract in the neighborhood of $50-60 million.
While Lewis might get his tires kicked by several teams early on, the growing surplus of free agent cornerbacks could possibly keep his market value down, and thus within reach of the Steelers. The Browns would figure to be a team that could overpay, however, as they have plenty of cap space to work with and Ray Horton, who was the Steelers defensive backs coach when Lewis was drafted, as their new defensive coordinator. I wouldn\’t consider Lewis a slam-dunk to leave just yet, but the possibility certainly exist. How strange would it be if both he and Wallace landed in Cleveland together?
The situation with Mendenhall is a curious one. Free agent running backs are not held in the same regard as they once were with more and more teams using a committee approach these days. Although he is presumably fully recovered from his knee injury that he suffered at the end of the 2011 season, he didn\’t help himself with his performance and attitude last season. There is bound to be a team that will pay him more than the Steelers will pay him, however, so it will be quite shocking if he isn\’t with another team two weeks from now. He is still young, a former first round pick, and his odometer lacks serious mileage.
Foster apparently already has suitors in the form of the Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, and the Tennessee Titans. This must have taken place in the legalized pre-tampering period. Wink, wink. He is durable and consistent. While the Steelers might try to make a final offer in order to keep him, I am sure that offer will be lower than the others and not come with the playing time guarantees that he will get elsewhere.
The rest of the Steelers unrestricted free agents are more than likely not going to have their phones ringing anytime soon. That list includes Max Starks, Casey Hampton, Larry Foote, Will Allen, Charlie Batch, Plaxico Burress, Brandon Johnson, David Johnson, Byron Leftwich, Doug Legursky, Ryan Mundy, Leonard Pope and Greg Warren. Starks, being as he is a starting left tackle, figures to be the most popular of the bunch.
A few on the list could possibly wind up back with the Steelers later in the off-season on one-year qualifying contracts, assuming they don\’t get attention from other teams by the time June or July roll around.
Happy tampering season, everyone.