The Pittsburgh Steelers, who are strapped at the salary cap, have decided to not franchise tag All-Pro wideout Mike Wallace. Instead they gave him a first-round tender qualifying offer, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The first-round tender is worth $2.75 million, which, according to ESPN, is close to the amount the Steelers are under the estimated salary cap. The Steelers have already released veterans Hines Ward, Chris Kemoeatu, Aaron Smith and James Farrior to clear salary cap space to sign draft picks, and to try to re-sign Wallace.
The Steelers' qualifying offer to Wallace means that any team can make him an offer, as if he was a regular free agent, but the Steelers can elect to match the price offered to him. If the Steelers should choose not to match the offer, the team that signs Wallace would have to give up its first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft in April.
The Steelers, due to their salary bind, would likely not be able to match any major offer from another team. So, that begs the question: Will the San Francisco 49ers make a run at Mike Wallace?
Wallace was a 49ers fan growing up, and loved Steve Young, so the attraction of playing for your boyhood favorite team is there. Wallace also wants to play for a contender and win a Super Bowl, and the 49ers were one Kyle Williams fumble shy of possibly playing in this past season's championship game.
Even more interesting, Wallace went on record this past week in a Sirius interview, saying the 49ers and Patriots are two teams he would like to play for. “Most definitely. Those are two playoff caliber, Super Bowl caliber teams," Wallace said. "All those teams need are that one more piece of the puzzle to put them over the top…I wouldn’t want to go anywhere and leave the situation I’m at, with a great quarterback and a great organization, and go someplace where I don’t feel I can compete (for a championship)”
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But, does this deal make sense for the 49ers?
It's no secret the 49ers are thin on the receiving corps. They have no clear No. 1 wide receiver who can change a game, and as of now only have two NFL-caliber receivers on their roster. The need for the position is definitely there.
The 49ers would have to give up their first-round pick to acquire Wallace, but at pick No. 30 in the draft, that's hardly a deal breaker. Wallace is likely better than any option the 49ers would have in the NFL draft this year.
Wallace is even a scheme fit for the 49ers. He's a good guy in the locker room and a hard worker. Wallace hasn't caused any rifts, even after taking a back seat to Antonio Brown as the No. 1 receiver in Pittsburgh this past year. The 49ers identity is as a power running team, and Wallace is a willing blocker and won't hesitate to hit a corner on the outside edge.
Lastly, Wallace's deep-threat ability is his greatest asset. The 49ers got the ball down field to Vernon Davis as often as they could this past season, and will hope to do so this upcoming year. Wallace would take the top of the defense completely and open up, not only the running game, but also the underneath passes. The only question is whether Alex Smith would be able to hit Wallace deep with enough frequency.
However, there is a good chance signing Wallace could get pricey. He would likely want a long-term deal, for top 10 wide receiver money. An estimation of his contract would be somewhere in the range of six years, $55 million.
That big money deal goes completely against the Harbaugh, Baalke way. Their strategy has been to assign values to free agents, and not make any over-the-top contract offers. But, with many expecting this team to be one receiver away from being a Super Bowl contender, would it make an exception and get a deal done for Wallace?
However, Wallace won't be easy for the 49ers to lure away from Pittsburgh. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reportedly was begging for Mike Wallace to stay with the team. "We need and want Mike back, and he's a part of the family, and we don't want to see him go anywhere," Roethlisberger said in an interview with DVE radio.
It would all depend on its cap flexibility. The 49ers will be sure to take care of their own free agents before going after a guy like Wallace.
With an estimated $29 million in cap space, the 49ers may not have the room to maneuver and get that kind of lucrative contract done for Wallace.