With Mike Wallace's contract dispute-induced holdout likely to last awhile without some kind of about face by one of the involved parties, the Pittsburgh Steelers will move on for the moment at the receiver position and plan for a season with the players they already have in camp.
One thing is certain. The absence of one of the team's starting receivers is sure to change the complexion of camp competitions and the roles established players may be playing.
Here's a look under the hood at what we can expect as camp continues to unfold.
Competition for Roster Spots
Without Mike Wallace, what was likely one or two open roster spots at the receiver position is now up to two or three. That means an undrafted player or a guy who was brought in to compete for a special teams spot might now make the roster when he wouldn't have before.
It will also increase reps for players who would otherwise be fighting for fewer reps with Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, who will be getting more reps with the first team.
One of the players who might benefit from this most is undrafted rookie Marquis Maze. He has opened some eyes in the offseason program so far and was one of the better rookie free agents brought in. Now he has a real chance to make this team and even get some reps on offense if this holdout keeps going.
Another player who will benefit is Toney Clemons. Drafted with the intent that he'd compete for a roster spot, he's now likely got one all but locked up. He's got a lot of potential and could end up being the next Mike Wallace (in a good way).
That Starting Spot
The Steelers don't seem to be sweating Wallace's absence very much at this point. That's not because he's likely to come in. I'd say the opposite is true. This kind of dispute isn't going to get resolved quickly and the money set aside for his extension talks is now in Antonio Brown's pocket.
Who Will Start Opposite Antonio Brown With Mike Wallace Holding Out?
They don't need to sweat it because the players with experience already on the roster can more than handle the load. Antonio Brown steps into the top spot and should continue to thrive in that role.
Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, previously competing for time in the slot, will now be working to be the starter. The other will be the slot receiver, although Toney Clemons might now inject himself into that competition as well.
Sanders is the favorite in my mind. Cotchery may have more experience as a starter, but Sanders has the upside as a big-play threat. That's what the Steelers need on snaps between the 20s. Inside the 20, the Steelers will involve Cotchery more often because of his ability as a possession guy.
What If He Shows Up Later?
If Wallace does finally come in, he's going to have a lot of catching up to do. I wouldn't be surprised to see Mike Tomlin give him some time off to learn the system and get his conditioning in line. The coach doesn't like distractions and he most certainly is unhappy with Wallace.
When Will Mike Wallace Return?
Wallace may not start until he shows he can run the route trees coordinator Todd Haley is planning on using. He will likely still be on the field, but his snaps will be limited until he's fully ready.
At this point, Wallace is really only injuring himself. If he plays out a one-year deal, he can have a big season and sign anywhere. By staying out, he can't play anywhere and can only hurt his value to the Steelers or any other NFL team.
How his arrival changes things again depends on when he comes in. The sooner, the more likely he will be atop the depth chart when things start for real in Denver. If he continues to wait, it will take him a lot longer to catch up.