The Steelers & Mike Wallace: How the RFA Presents a Potential Win/Win Scenario

Bill WashinskiContributor IIIFebruary 22, 2012

The Steelers either keep Mike Wallace or get a #1 pick for him - more than the going rate for 1-time Pro Bowl WRs
The Steelers either keep Mike Wallace or get a #1 pick for him - more than the going rate for 1-time Pro Bowl WRsJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

There has been a lot of debate about the Pittsburgh Steelers salary cap situation and the dilemma surrounding Mike Wallace.  They could lose the extremely talented young WR through restricted free agency.

Although many are trying to paint this as a bad position for the Steelers, it’s exactly the opposite; the Steelers are in a situation where they can’t lose.  Contrary to what fans or former attorneys say on the internet, most NFL personnel evaluators place a high value on No. 1 draft picks. And the team (assuming there is one) that attempts to sign Wallace will have to trade their No. 1 pick in the 2012 Draft in order to acquire him.  

However, it is more complex than just exchanging a No. 1 pick for Mike Wallace.  We are talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL and not the Pittsburgh Pirates and the MLB.  For another team to acquire Wallace, they will have to structure a contract that the Steelers can't match. 

But first, this question has to be asked: Is the 2011 Pro-Bowl WR Mike Wallace worth a No. 1 draft pick?

In recent years, there have been a number of headline trades involving wide receivers—Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Santonio Holmes, Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Brandon Marshall, Braylon Edwards and Anquan Bolden.  And at the time of each trade, none commanded a No. 1 draft pick.  This list can be expanded to Pro-Bowl tight ends Tony Gonzalez, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow II—none involved a No. 1 draft pick. 

Roy Williams for a 1st, 3rd and 6th - Its a good thing the Owner and GM are close.
Roy Williams for a 1st, 3rd and 6th - Its a good thing the Owner and GM are close.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Though rare, it does happen that a team surrenders a No. 1 draft pick.  In 2008, the Cowboys traded a No. 1 pick (plus extra picks) for 2006 Pro-Bowl WR Roy Williams.  The trade was so disastrous.  One can speculate that the only reason why the GM was not fired was due to his close relationship with the owner.     

More often than not the team that gives up a No. 1 pick for a player regrets it—ask Hue Jackson about how it’s working out for him after he pushed to acquire Carson Palmer for (potentially) two first-round draft choices.

It does sound perfectly logical, though, for a team like the Bengals or the Patriots to attempt to acquire Mike Wallace.  New England desperately needs a WR with the ability to stretch the defense.

Despite all the praise that is heaped onto Bill Belichick, the inconvenient truth is that Belichick’s drafting (in particular since the departure of Scott Pioli) has been abysmal.  In fact, the Patriots selected Brandon Tate at WR immediately before the Steelers selected Mike Wallace in round three of the 2009 Draft.  The Patriots passed on Mike Wallace a total of five times that year.

Another problem—because the Steelers will match any reasonable offer for Wallace, the contract that is tendered to him must be front-loaded with cash so that the Steelers cannot match it.  Although the new CBA has eliminated the "Poison Pill" provision, it does not stop a team from structuring the contract to be front-loaded with cash, so teams like the Steelers are unable to match it solely based on their salary cap position.

In this case, the Patriots (for example) run the risk of violating the “Law of Unintended Consequences.”  To understand what that means, look no further than how DeSean Jackson reacted to the Philadelphia Eagles spending craze in creating the “Dream Team.”  Money was spent on players outside of the Eagles organization, fostering discontent with those already on the team. 

Acquiring Wallace could cost the frugal Patriots Welker?
Acquiring Wallace could cost the frugal Patriots Welker?Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It is completely out of the Patriots character to spend money in the fashion that it would take to obtain Wallace this year, and they would have to still deal with the ramifications on how it would impact their negotiations with Wes Welker.

The Bengals are one of the most notoriously cheap franchises in the NFL.  It is hard to imagine the Bengals making an offer.

The Ravens are a team that would love to have Wallace, but they do not have much salary cap room and have to sign Joe Flacco and Ray Rice.

Realistically, the teams with the most flexibility to sign Mike Wallace are Cleveland or Tampa.  And they will not sacrifice a top pick in the draft for him.  San Francisco is a potential landing spot; they only have to surrender the No. 30 pick, but beyond that, the list of legitimate suitors is rather thin.

The Steelers have a win/win situation.  Mike Wallace is not the only young talent the Steelers have at WR, as Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are there as well.  If they lose Wallace, then they are compensated with another No. 1 draft choice.  Kevin Colbert has a distinguished record of selecting talented players, and the Steelers could come out of the draft filling an extra need at OT, OG or NT.

However things turn out, the Steelers will come out of the situation in good shape, but that should come as no surprise.  It is not by accident that they have been the NFL’s most successful organization in the Super Bowl era.