The Steelers need Mike Wallace, but Mike Wallace doesn’t necessarily need the Steelers. He’s being held captive, though, by the contractual chain that is restricted free agency.
Back in April teams had a prime opportunity to nab Wallace for the cost of a first-round pick, an offer that still stands, although now it will apply to next spring. At the time it was thought that WR-needy teams at the back end of the first round would readily sacrifice a pick that’s nearly a second rounder for a 25-year-old receiver who just completed his rookie contract, and averaged 74.6 yards per game last year (1,193 yards overall).
It wouldn’t have been a case of trading promising youth in the draft for an established yet fading veteran as the Raiders did with Carson Palmer. No, there would have been young blood on both sides of that swap, with Wallace’s speed already showcased over three seasons. But alas, the price was too steep, as the Patriots decided that three years of Brandon Lloyd at $12 million was a better option, and the Browns chose instead to draft a competent quarterback, eliminating two of the WR-needy teams in prime position to grab Wallace’s.
Now the Steelers’ manifest destiny has come to fruition. Wallace is still tied to the organization through the RFA tag, and he’ll be there until he either signs his $2.72 million restricted free agent tender (highly unlikely), or he agrees to a long-term contract (becoming increasingly more likely).
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports that Steelers GM Kevin Colbert continues to work with Wallace to secure an agreement before training camp next week.
From La Canfora:
“The sides have remained in close contact and continued their dialogue and are expected to maintain a steady pace with the start of training camp looming. There has been some movement and though no deal is imminent and work remains to be done, the situation has certainly improved since early this offseason. Both sides are motivated to complete a long-term contract.”
While Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are quickly emerging and one of them would easily be capable of accelerating his emergence and stepping up, Wallace’s absence would still hurt the Steelers’ deep passing game.
Ben Roethlisberger had nine completions for 40 yards or more last year, and seven of them were to Wallace. And of his 56 completions for 20 yards or more, 18 of them (32 percent) went to Wallace too.