Our long national nightmare is over. Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley have spoken!
One can only speculate what they said. It appears no steel chairs were involved so that’s good. Of course, we’ll see how cordial they remain after Ben holds on to the ball for twenty-five minutes and takes a drive killing sack only to be greeted on the sideline by Haley threatening to turn his boot sideways and stick it straight up his candy-ass. For now, however, all is good in Steeler Nation.
Although it may not be for long. The Pittsburgh Steelers announced yet another deal restructuring, this time with offensive tackle Willie Colon. The overpaid fatass’s new deal reduces his cap hit by roughly half, which brings the Steelers ever so closer to being under the salary cap. As has been discussed, the Steelers went into this off-season roughly $25 million over the cap and had to clear that salary by the start of the 2012 NFL season in early March. With Colon’s reworked contract, the team is now only around $8 million over.
Hines Ward is due $4 million next season. Aaron Smith is $2 million still on the books. Useless Chris Kemoeatu, who must have pictures of Deuce dressed like a sheep at Pittsburgh’s annual Furry Convention to still be on this team, is due a whopping $3.5 million. And then we have aging James Farrior, who is scheduled to make $3 million next season. So there are plenty of cuts left to make to get under the cap.
Cutting all of those players would get the Steelers right under the cap with just about enough room left to sign this year’s crop of draft picks. It doesn’t leave in room to sign any free agents. And, more importantly, it doesn’t take into account any contract extensions they may wish to dole out. And therein lies the problem.
Mike Wallace is going to be a restricted free agent. This means the Steelers have three options in dealing with him. They can Franchise tag him, which would prevent him from leaving since any team signing him would have to surrender two first round draft picks. They can Transition tag him, which is similar to the Franchise tag except the salary demands are lower but teams only have to surrender one first rounder if they outbid the Steelers. And then they can simply tender him, which is to say offer him a contract. The amount of the tender determines what other teams have to pay if they try to sign him. As long as the Steelers offer Wallace a contract in excess of $2.5 million, the cost to sign him would be a first round pick.
The Franchise tag for a wide receiver is projected to cost about $9 million. There is no way the Steelers can afford a $9 million cap hit and frankly Wallace isn’t worth that much anyway. So they’re not going to do that. The Transition tag will run about $6.5 million, which is better but probably still too rich for Black and Gold blood. Most likely the Steelers will tender Wallace, which leaves them open to all kinds of problems.
Consider Hines is the greatest receiver in Steeler history and he’s only making $4 million. Wallace has had two fantastic back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and is easily one of the best young wide outs in the game. But he also faded badly down the stretch, practically disappearing the final month of the season. He also played miserably in the Steelers crushing Wild Card loss at Denver. Wallace is a talented guy but he’s also a one-trick pony. Other than catching the occasionally deep ball, he’s been too lazy to develop into a well-rounded receiver which is why he’s been surpassed by Antonio Brown as Ben’s top target. Between his poor route-running, poor work ethic and arrogant streak, it’s not surprising the Steelers may be reluctant to commit a long-term big money contract to their young wide out.
But there may be a team that isn’t. Rumor has it the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots have their eyes on Wallace. The Bengals have two first rounders from the Carson Palmer trade. More importantly, thanks to a combination of owner Mike Brown’s penny-pinching and assembling a young team by jettisoning expensive vets like Palmer and Chad Ochocinco, they have a lot of cap room to play with. Meanwhile, the Pats are dying to find a deep threat that stretches the field similar to how Randy Moss did before he imploded. Considering they pick at the ass-end of the first round, surrendering a first round pick would hardly be much of a sacrifice.
Either team could easily force the Steelers’ hand by offering Wallace a $3.5-4 million contract. Maybe the Steelers are even secretly hoping that will happen. They are an old team and could use a second first rounder to help reload. Without Wallace, the team would still be young and talented at WR with AB and Manny Sanders plus whichever veteran they sign as the number 3. They could bring back Jerricho Cotchery, who would be inclined to re-sign since he’d be guaranteed more playing time, or go after another veteran such as Plaxico Burress or Reggie Wayne. Regardless of their options or Wallace’s limitations, the bottom line is he’s still a two-time 1,000 yard receiver so letting him go would be a dangerous move, particularly if he went on to New England and exploded into a 20 TD/season superstar.
Most importantly, what kind of message would this send to Ben and Haley? Ben has made no secret of the fact he loves the talent he has at receiver and loves the fact we’ve opened up the offense to become more of a pass-heavy attack. Letting his top receiver go would be yet another slap in his face. And Haley, who helped Dwayne Bowe go from draft bust to big time playmaker, might start wondering what kind of situation he walked into. Letting Wallace go may be the worst case scenario for this Steeler off-season but if it makes Todd and Ben into BFFs, I guess at least one good thing would come of it.