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Steelers can’t overpay Wallace


When the Steelers decided not to put the franchise tag on restricted free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace, they knowingly left a window open for the most dynamic receiver on the roster to sign somewhere else.

It is a chance they had to take.

And now, overpaying to keep him is a chance they cannot afford to take.

The Steelers spent the better part of the last month trying to get within the ballpark of the projected 2012 salary cap, and did a tremendous job of it.

They restructured contracts of five players and released six others including some of the all-time Steelers greats (James Farrior, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith) at their positions to knock a total of $40 million off of their salary cap.

Even with that, the Steelers are projected to be anywhere between $4 million to $8 million under the cap depending on the final salary cap number expected to be released any day now – nowhere near enough to match a big-time off to Wallace.

Now, there is still a lot of fat on the bone when it comes to the Steelers current top 51 players who count against the salary cap.

Jonathan Scott and Will Allen won’t contribute much at all during the upcoming season and are expendable. Their releases would save approximately $4 million more.

The Rooneys can also write big checks to James Harrison and Troy Polamalu to lower their cap number with restructures like they already did with Ben Roethlisberger, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Ike Taylor and Willie Colon that lanced nearly $26 million off the cap.

But if you don’t have to restructure, you shouldn’t. That’s just good business.

Even so, the reality of it all is that it won’t take much for a team like San Francisco to put the Steelers in an uncomfortable position on Tuesday when teams are allowed to offer restricted free agents contracts.

San Francisco is in the neighborhood of $23 million under the cap with quarterback Alex Smith still needed to be locked up. Even so, they would have plenty of money to offer Wallace if they chose to go that route instead of pursuing a guy like Vincent Jackson, who wouldn’t cost the 49ers a draft pick if they sign him.

Still, if the 49ers front load a contract that would give Wallace in the neighborhood of a $10 million cap hit for the upcoming year (the Steelers must match any deal as it is written), the Steelers wouldn’t be able to do much unless they purge a much more than they would feel comfortable doing.

There will be temptations to do so, but they couldn’t, shouldn’t and wouldn’t.

Wallace is extremely valuable to the offense in both the run and pass game, but not valuable enough to tamper with the integrity of the current roster that is still has a legitimate chance at a Super Bowl.

A first-round pick and an extra $10 million in your front pocket is much more enticing having Wallace catch a handful of 60-yard touchdowns next year.

They’ve replaces Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress before so you would think they feel the same way about Wallace.

However, the pros greatly outweigh the cons for keeping Wallace.

Pros: His speed makes the opposition game plan for him; he opens up space underneath for Antonio Brown; he’s 25; the Steelers really don’t have anybody on their current roster that can do what he does; his presence on the field helps the run game; and the Steelers would get a first-round pick if he leaves.

Cons: It could cost them money they don’t have.

And really, isn’t money the bottom line to this entire thing?

The Steelers want Wallace, but can’t afford to overpay him.

Wallace wants to stay with the Steelers but can’t turn down an opportunity at a big pay day somewhere else.

If some other team wants Wallace bad enough, there will nothing the Steelers can do about it, or want to do about it.

That just might not be a bad thing.

— Mark Kaboly


Author: Mark Kaboly

Mark Kaboly is the Pittburgh Steelers beat writer for the Tribune-Review. Mark has covered more than 300 NFL football games in all 32 NFL cities as well as three Super Bowls -- XL in Detroit, XLIII in Tampa and XLV in Dallas. A Belle Vernon Area graduate, Mark earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a specialization in journalism from California University of Pennsylvania. Mark lives in Port Vue with his wife, Jennifer; daughter Briella; and boys Rocco and Bugsley Pug


  1. Bon says:

    Wallace is pretty good but Antonio Brown is the best WR on the team. He will be looking for his money next season and he should be paid. He works hard on his skill set which is superior to Wallace.

    I don’t expect any teams to trade away their #1 draft pick and pay more than they should.

    When the Steelers restructure a contract they do not write big checks, it is simply an accounting procedure and the player gets paid a bonus instead of the salary.

  2. DC says:


    Of course they write big checks when restructuring. They move money from the remaining years of the contract and pay it to the player right now.

  3. hammertime says:

    No need to worry, the Steelers won’t overpay Wallace, its rare if they do that for anybody, however, DON’T down play Wallace importance to this team, He is the reason Brown caught all those Balls, because teams fear Wallace Speed (creating double teams), and buddy, he has got it to burn, did you see how many times he was completely behind opposing Defense’s, you got to KEEP at LEAST ONE Game Breaker!!!!!!

  4. Carl says:

    Indeed, Wallace and Brown in concert totally complement each other. Wallace IS a major reason Brown looked so good 2nd half of last season. Without Wallace, Brown may not look as good and vice-versa.

    We need these guys together. With them, and add in Sanders, we have outstanding WRs. Without one of the first two, not so much I think….

  5. Chitown Ed says:

    Sorry if this is a stupid question, but why are the Steelers not trying to negotiate a contract with Wallace right now beforehand? Reports say they’re talking with Cotchery who is obviously a lower priority. Have not heard reports about talks with Wallace going on.

  6. Carl says:

    From what I’ve read, they are trying to do that. Wallace’s agent ain’t stupid, he’ll wait til the FA period and for someone to make Wallace an offer, to maximize what he might get from whatever team, Steelers or otherwise….

  7. Scott P says:

    “over paying” is a relative term. It is also a fluid one. Money that is considered excessive today will be viewed as a bargain a couple years from now. You can’t coach speed. Wallace has more of it than most anybody. Sign the dude and figure it out later.

    The Steelers lost Neil O’Donnel to the Jets for 5 million a year. That is punter money today.

  8. Beefy says:

    Of course they can overpay for Wallace. He was a third rounder, as was Hines. AB was a 6th rounder.

    Let Wallace go for the first round pick, then deal to get the best nose tackle available. We can address WR in third round.

    Beside, Wallace’s main (and only) real skill is speed. So what happens in a couple years when either age or injury slows him down? Remember Fast Willie Parker? Remember not-so-fast Willie Parker?

  9. Dennis says:

    I think the odds are pretty good that no one makes an offer to Mike Wallace. I think for the last two years no one has made an offer to any first round tendered free agents.

  10. Steelfan says:

    That’s because in years past teams that signed RFAs had to give up a 3rd round pick in addition to a first rounder. That is no longer the case with the new CBA so it makes Wallace attractive to teams in the lower part of the 1st round with available cap space.

  11. D.L.Moore says:

    trim some more fat and pay wallace.Brown will not be the same without wallace.wallace stretched the field for him now and keep these young guys together.

  12. Pay Wallace, period. You can’t predict a first round draft pick is going to be great or be a bust. They should get rid of a few people on the offensive line that at times look like they should not even be playing in college football.What do we have 2 receivers? Brown and Sanders for sure. Cotchery not signed yet and maybe no Wallace. If he goes what we will be like this season? We certainly don’t have the power to run,run,run the football like other teams.

  13. Rick says:

    @Steelfan. Agreed. plus some teams (New England comes to mind) have more than 1 first round pick this year.

  14. Imp'nArn says:

    Interesting ambiguity: “Steelers can’t overpay Wallace”

    “no amount is too much” is probably what Mike and his agent are thinking.

  15. DK67 says:

    Wallace will be wearing a Patriots’ jersey next year and the Steelers will be wishing they had ‘showed him the money’. Cotchery’s agent is probably aware that if Wallace goes, Cotchery’s paycheck to stay should get a little bigger…so why not wait it out as well. The NFL/owners let this get out of control a long time ago, why does any player need to make $10M+ per year? I wish my salary doubled, tripled, quadrupled or more every 5 years.

  16. james says:

    we need to sign wallace to a 7 year deal, now!!! because next year the cap will be elevated like the mile high stadium in denver!!!! then we can sign brown, and keep him locked for the next few years too. even with the 26th pick in the first round, we NEED to get poe, NO MATTER WHAT!!!! what do you think?

  17. EddieDean says:

    Relax !! What ever the outcome, in context to Wallace, the Steelers will be a SB competitor.. As a 50 year fan., I have seen the Great Ones Come and Go.. I look forward to the next HOF Steeler.., Sure to Come.. I would like Wallace to stay a Steeler, but have no problem with him leaving. Two first round selections provides the opportunity to plug Two Holes with HOF potential Talent.. A new “One Trick Pony” can be found throughout the Draft. Relax., the Steelers will continue to be Great!!

  18. Christian says:

    They cannot afford to lose Wallace. He spreads the field, and is a big reason why Antonio had a breakout season. I love Antonio, and he earned everything he got, but the article is right; teams game planned for Wallace, not Brown. Either way, I’m hoping Wallace accepts a respectable deal from the Steelers and doesn’t sell himself to the highest bidder.

  19. FrankR says:

    I agree totally about keeping Wallace. He’s only played 3yrs. Lock him up now, it’ll only cost more later. And everyone who is saying A.Brown won’t be as effective, are spot on. W/ no Wallace to worry about, A.Brown now gets double teamed. You think any DCoor. will be truly afraid of Brown, (gimpy) E.Sanders & Cotchery?? Get ready for a lot of throws to Miller down the middle (not bad) & a lot of J.Dwyer running the ball. No excuse now, w/ 2 1rst RD picks, they better get a LG & a NT. Still disappointed though, drafted Wallace for 3 yrs & he’s gone. What a waste.

  20. David says:

    I garantee Wallace will NOT be on the Steelers roster for the 2012 season. I ( Joe Namath ) garantee it!…..

  21. Harry says:

    Somebody in the AFC Central sign James Farrior — please!

    Big Ben

  22. Dano says:

    Makes zero sense to lose Wallace for anything less than a first- and third-rounder. He has too much talent, and the organization has invested too much in him.

  23. Clarence says:

    Reality says Wallace has every right to sell himself to the highest bidder with a chance to succeed. Anything less if foolish and anyone who says they would do different is either delusional, hypocritical, foolish, or the ultimate homer.

    This will probably be his one and only shot at the mega contract. Think about it, 5 years is a flash in the pan and he’ll be 30, slower, wiser, but certainly not going to get the same attention or contract. Now’s his chance, he has to go for it.

    When will we learn after all the Steelers have been through this team works very hard not to be reliant on any 1 player to make it to the SB. I mean, anything, God forbid, could happen to prevent that player from playing… uh, Peyton Manning anyone?!? Signs mega contract with $26 mil bonus, didn’t play down, now is released. How’d that work out for Colts? Granted, anyone with half a brain would have done the same thing, but still the point is that the $$ could go for naught.

    The Steeler brain trust has made every right move. We can 2nd year load a contract to entice Wallace to stay when we have the oppty when that big TV contract hits, but until then we have to toss the dice. And as Kablooey said, at worst, we’ll end up with 2 #1s this season. Not what we’d prefer, but it’s something. The Colts ain’t getting a hot dog for Peyton Manning.

  24. David says:

    @Clarence, chill I never said he didn’t have the right to get money, heck I would do the same at his age and knowing the NFL life expectancy, All I said was he will not be in a Steelers uniform this 2012 season….. LOL… some people take things to heart!…..

  25. David says:

    Last I checked, there is no longer an AFC Central…… LOL…. stay with the times, evolution waits for no one. Time erases all memories!…

  26. Imp'n'Arn says:

    I say the Steelers platoon Hampton, Hood and McClendon at NT instead of using a first round pick on one.

    Look for them to snag an LB like Burfict or Kuechly, or a DE like Still.

    Whatever happened to that undrafted free agent NT, Anthony Gray? That guy was low, wide, strong and agile and a good project for NT.

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