With the new league year set to start in about three weeks, the Pittsburgh Steelers are faced with an issue that could drastically alter the franchise for years to come. Will they keep Mike Wallace, or lose him this free agency?
For years, the Steelers habit was to groom players to be great, only to watch them leave for top dollar in free agency. In more recent history, the Steelers have signed those players to long term contracts.
Mike Wallace is one of those players, bringing a spark to the offense that not many in the NFL have. With blazing speed and above average hands, he it a threat anywhere on the field. Twice in 2011, Wallace had touch down catches of over 80 yards.
This is where the problem comes in for the Steelers. Wallace just completed his third season with the Steelers, and having only signed a three-year contract as a rookie, Wallace is set to become a restricted free agent.
Now, the Steelers have three different choices to do with Wallace.
Apply the Franchise Tag
By placing the Franchise Tag on Wallace, the Steelers must offer him just over $9 million dollars for 2012. If any team would sign Wallace to an offer sheet, and the Steelers did not match, the Steelers would receive two first round picks as compensation.
Apply a Restricted Free Agent Tender
By applying a first round tender, the Steelers would have to pay Wallace around $2.7 million dollars for 2012.
Wallace would be able to shop his services to other teams, and if the Steelers did not match any offer, they would receive only one first round pick as compensation.
Do nothing, and allow Wallace to leave via Free Agency
Well, since Art Rooney said that his top off season priority would be to resign Wallace, we can rule this one out.
Let's start with the first one.
For the Steelers to franchise Wallace, they would have to clear even more additional room under the salary cap than they already have to.
Yes, they could extend his contract beyond 2012, If they don't then next year, the decision is going to have to be made between keeping Wallace and Antonio Brown.
The second option would almost certainly guarantee that Wallace would be playing in a different uniform during the 2012 season.
As one of the fastest men in the NFL, Wallace can stretch a defense more than almost any other receiver in the game. He is a constant threat, and as so, commands double teams on every play.
He leaves under-routes across the middle left with single coverage, giving more options to Ben Roethlisberger underneath.
With teams only having to part ways with a first round pick for signing Wallace, teams that are picking at the end of the first round have no reason not to go after Wallace.
Teams like the San Francisco 49ers, who are one deep threat from possibly being in the Super Bowl, would fill that pick for the 29th pick in the draft.
Teams like the Patriots, Ravens, Bengals and even the Texans would welcome the addition of Wallace based on his instant upgrade to their offense. And picking so late in the first round would only add fuel to their fire.
If the Steelers are to lose Wallace, then will at least get some type of compensation. It will also give them the opportunity to keep both Brown and Emmanuel Sanders as free agents in 2013.
Whatever the case we will find out what happens in about a month on March 13th.