|It's not ideal, but the Steelers can survive in a Wallace-less offense. (US PRESSWIRE)|
By Ryan Wilson
If, in 12 days, the Steelers haven't extended wide receiver Mike Wallace's contract, there's the real possibility that he may have played his last game for Pittsburgh. The organization will tender Wallace, a restricted free agent, the highest offer but teams looking for proven deep threats might willingly give up a first-round pick for his rights.
Exacerbating matters: the Steelers are some $7 million over the salary cap and likely wouldn't be able to match any contract another team might offer Wallace. Pittsburgh understands this and so does the third-year wide receiver.
"(Pittsburgh is) where I would like to be, but we all know that it is a business and you have certain things you have to handle," Wallace said during an appearance on SiriusXM Wednesday afternoon (via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). "So if I have to go elsewhere, you know Pittsburgh will always be in my heart, but I have to do what I have to do. ...
"Yeah, we are talking, but I don`t know how far they are going to get right now because of the situation," he said, referring to the team's cap situation. "I know that they are working hard trying to take care of it, but I don`t know. We`ll see."
(We talked about Wallace's future -- among other things -- on the most recent Pick-6 Podcast.)
We wrote Monday about the doomsday scenario that has the Steelers losing Wallace and, well, it's not the end of the world some fans and media portray it to be. (We'll include part of it below since we buried it in a post about Big Ben and Haley, western Pennsylvania's newest BFFs.)
Wallace has put up some mind-blowing numbers during his three-year career, and you can even blame his second-half-of-2011 slump on Roethlisberger's health and defenses double- and triple-teaming him. But Pittsburgh also has Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. We think Brown will eventually be better than Wallace, if he's not already. And Sanders has the ability to become a solid No. 2 option.
The Steelers would also have an additional first-rounder, most likely near the bottom of the round. If, in their draft evaluations, they find a handful of players that they think would help them immediately (and when we say "players," we really mean "offensive linemen"), perhaps it's a tradeoff worth considering. Wallace is worth more than a late first-round selection but there are extenuating circumstances, chiefly the salary-cap purgatory the organization currently finds itself.
In addition to Brown and Sanders, Pittsburgh would need to re-sign someone like Jerricho Cotchery, or hope that Hines Ward has anything left for another season. (Worth mentioning: Ward had a severely sprained ankle early in the season and that may have hampered his production down the stretch.)
Then there is tight end Heath Miller, recently underutilized because of Pittsburgh's suspect pass-blocking. Haley announced at his introductory press conference that he was a huge Miller fan, and Miller could become another downfield option in the Steelers' passing game should they lose Wallace.
Finally, Pittsburgh has been to three Super Bowls since 2005, winning two. The group of pass catchers in 2005 included Ward, Cedrick Wilson and Antwaan Randle El. In 2009, it was Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Nate Washington. The takeaway: given the Steelers' financial predicament, keeping Wallace is more a luxury than a necessity.
The organization has less two weeks to sort this out. Whether that's enough time to get under the cap and extend Wallace is an entirely different issue. But Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has an impressive track record not only when it comes to identifying talent but knowing when to let them walk. We'll know shortly where Colbert stands on Wallace.
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