Without question, the Pittsburgh Steelers' highest-profile unrestricted free agent this offseason is wide receiver Mike Wallace. However, with the salary cap unchanged at $121 million for 2013 and the wide receiver franchise tag worth $10.357 million, there's little chance the Steelers will be able to keep Wallace under that designation.
The only option is a long-term contract, but that seems just as unlikely as franchising Wallace. Wallace had a chance to stay with the Steelers for years to come during the 2012 offseason, but instead, he rejected Pittsburgh's offer and held out through the preseason. That contract, a five-year deal worth $42 million, instead went to his teammate, Antonio Brown.
In a season in which Wallace needed to prove he was worth more than what he was initially offered—by the Steelers or any other team—he mostly disappointed. Wallace blamed a lack of focus for having such low numbers this year, but really, he had more than enough opportunity to match his 2011 production, even in Todd Haley's new offensive system.
Last year, Wallace caught 72 passes for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns and averaged 16.6 yards per reception. This season, he had 64 catches for 838 yards and eight touchdowns and had a 13.1 yards-per-reception average.
Further, the deep passing hasn't taken a hit in Haley's system, at least when it comes to Wallace. The issues are instead the receiver's, as well as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's.
In 2011, Wallace was targeted deep (20 or more yards) 24 times, according to Pro Football Focus. He caught 10 of them, had one drop and scored five touchdowns on those passes. In 2012, Wallace was thrown to in the deep end 31 times, the result being just six catches, with four touchdowns and two drops. It wasn't the system to blame for his struggles.
So, with Wallace's disappointing season, the seeming willingness of the Steelers to forge ahead without him and his price tag is too high even if they had a change of heart, Wallace may be the Steelers' biggest-name free agent, but he's not the one most important to the team.