Sunday, March 18, 2012
Steelers' gamble with Wallace paying off
By Jamison Hensley
It was a calculated risk for the Pittsburgh Steelers to put a first-round tender on restricted free agent Mike Wallace instead of the franchise tag. But, like so many times when it comes to personnel decisions, the Steelers showed they knew what they were doing.
As ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter points out, the Steelers can essentially stop sweating about losing Wallace this offseason. San Francisco and New England, the two teams most likely to sign the Pro Bowl wide receiver to an offer sheet and give up a first-round draft pick, aren't expected to pursue him after Saturday's additions at wide receiver.
The Patriots signed former Rams wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, and the 49ers reached an agreement with Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham. This should round out the wide receiver groups for New England (which already signed Anthony Gonzalez to go with Wes Welker) and San Francisco (which earlier added Randy Moss to go with Michael Crabtree).
Of course, there are no certainties when it comes to free agency. Most restricted free agents don't draw much interest this early in March because the deadline to extend offer sheets to restricted free agents is April 20. So there would be no rush for a team to go after the speedy wide receiver.
But it's hard to come up with a mystery team for Wallace. The Cincinnati Bengals have the need at wide receiver, the cap room and the additional first-round pick to spare. It's just unlikely that the Bengals make this move because their emphasis is to build through the draft, even though splitting out Wallace with A.J. Green would cause nightmares for cornerbacks.
The Baltimore Ravens have a late-round first-round pick like the 49ers and Patriots and could hurt their AFC North rival by pursuing Wallace, but they publicly ruled out going after restricted free agents last month. The one team that has gone unmentioned with Wallace is Denver, especially if the Broncos win the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. Denver needs another legitimate wide receiver to go with Demaryius Thomas, and Wallace is better than anyone remaining on the free-agent market.
In my mind, the Patriots were always the team to watch. They needed a deep threat for Tom Brady and could be willing to give up the 31st overall pick for him. New England instead chose Lloyd, who has a history with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, over Wallace.
Even if the Steelers' gamble with Wallace ultimately pays off, Pittsburgh faces more difficult decisions next offseason. Wallace becomes an unrestricted free agent at the same time Antonio Brown is a restricted free agent. The Steelers have arguably the best young receiving tandem in the NFL, and it will be a challenge to keep it that way going forward.