Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Mike Wallace Waiting Game

Moving on to Chicago? New England? Cincinnati?  Baltimore?  San Francisco? Washington?
Now the Steelers wait.  By deciding to withhold the franchise tag on Mike Wallace, the Steelers have placed their bet on losing Wallace to free agency -- possibly to New England, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Chicago, San Francisco or another team with salary cap flexibility, first-round draft choice and money to spend.

Wallace, who is "Fast Money" in the Steelers' Young Money trio of receivers -- will be getting Big Money.

Rather than bidding against themselves and setting the market for Wallace, the Steelers are going to let other teams bid against each other and set a price that the Steelers will have the opportunity to match.

As general manager Kevin Colbert said on Steelers.com, "He could get an offer from another team, but ultimately we get to make the decision on Mike."

Dicey, and a calculated risk.  The odds are fairly good that another team will make Fast Money a BIG MONEY offer that the Steelers will decide they just cannot match.

Beginning next Tuesday, March 13, offers to Wallace will start to come in from other teams.  If the Steelers choose not to match, they will lose Wallace and receive, in turn, the signing team's first-round draft choice.

One team in the running for Wallace could well be, gack!, New England, which owns two first-round draft picks and six picks in the first three rounds. The Patriots need a deep threat. They just applied the franchise tag to Wes Welker, however, so they now have a lot of cap space tied up at the receiver position already.  Another option for the Patriots is free agent wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, who has already expressed an interest in playing for New England and reuniting with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was head coach in Denver while Lloyd was with the Broncos.  Llloyd, however, is not nearly the deep threat Wallace is.

Wallace going to New England would be a worst-case scenario, matched only by the possibility of Wallace going to Baltimore.  The Ravens last week signed running back Ray Rice to a big-money contract, however, and are working on a new deal for quarterback Joe Flacco, so they may not be able to afford Wallace.  Or they might go after him just to jerk the Steelers around.

Another AFC North Division rival, Cincinnati, presumably could afford Wallace.  The Bengals are $60 million under the cap and already have one of the best young receivers in the game, A.J. Green. Bengals fans must be drooling at the possibility of seeing Green paired with Wallace.  It could happen.  Like the Patriots, the Bengals have two first-round draft choices.  There's almost no reason for the Bengals not to make an offer to Wallace, except ... they're the Bengals.

Another team with cap space and a need at wide receiver is the Chicago Bears. This team worries Joey Porter's Pit Bulls.  The Bears have cap space, a glaring need at wide receiver and must do something splashy to stay competitive with NFC North rival Green Bay.  The Minnesota Vikings are in that category, too, although they need to rebuild from the ground up, so signing Wallace may not make as much sense for the Vikings as it would for the Bears.

San Francisco would be a great match for Wallace, too, and the 49ers also have a glaring need at receiver, as do the Washington Redskins.

New Orleans is a dark-horse candidate to sign Wallace, who is a native of the Big Easy.  The Saints have other big problems just now, however, including the task of signing franchise quarterback Drew Brees and All-Pro guard Carl Nicks.  Having let receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem hit free agency, the Saints have a need at wide receiver.  If they cannot sign Brees, which seems unthinkable, they will have money to spend.  And it is Wallace's hometown. 

It's going to take Big Money to sign Fast Money.
One saving grace for the Steelers is that this is a deep year for wide receivers in free agency, including Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, Brandon Lloyd, Mario Manningham, Robert Meachem, Laurent Robinson, Josh Morgan, Plaxico Burress and -- gasp!  say it ain't so-- Hines Ward.  We didn't just say that, did we?

Wallace is the best of the bunch, however, and more than one team will bid for his services and drive up his price. Complicating the situation for the Steelers is the pending contract situation, next off-season, for fellow receivers Antonio Brown ("Fast Money") and Emanuel Sanders ("Easy Money").

So much for sentiment.
The Steelers' purge/makeover/transformation continues, then, and may not be over.  Fare thee well, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and James Farrior -- great players, all -- and, uh, oh yeah, you too, Chris Kemoeatu.  Good luck to all, and thanks for the memories.

It's going to be tough not having those guys around anymore.

Let's just hope Mike Wallace doesn't join the group of departures.