The San Francisco 49ers aren't the only NFC West team needing help at wide receiver. The St. Louis Rams stand ahead of San Francisco in that line, particularly if Brandon Lloyd departs in free agency.
Where the 49ers pick in the 2012 draft's first round -- 30th overall, compared to second for the Rams -- led longtime NFL analyst Pat Kirwan, now with CBS, to list San Francisco among three potential trade suitors for Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace.
One of our blog regulars, Johnny Alcatraz, pointed me toward Kirwan's piece in the comments section of our first item Monday. As Kirwan notes, the new labor agreement eliminated high tenders for restricted free agents. Teams signing away restricted free agents from rival teams now would risk only a first-round draft choice, down from first- and third-round choices under the previous labor agreement.
Wallace, with three years of NFL experience, is scheduled to become a restricted free agent. The Steelers could match any offers to him or command a 2012 first-round pick from any team signing him.
The way Kirwan sees things, the 49ers and other receiver-needy teams holding low first-round choices might value Wallace enough to part with their choices near the bottom of the round. The Steelers, averse to overpaying and facing those aforementioned cap concerns, might prefer a first-round choice to a cap-averse contract.
Such a scenario, though unlikely to play out, makes for a worthwhile mental exercise. Among the considerations:
The Steelers and NFL teams in general want to keep their best young players. Wallace is 26 years old and has averaged 1,068 yards per season and 18.7 yards per reception. Subtracting Wallace would diminish the Steelers' return on their primary investment, Ben Roethlisberger.
Without the high restricted tender, teams could be tempted to use the recently discounted franchise tag for players such as Wallace. That is an option for the Steelers.
Making a splashy move for another team's player goes against the way San Francisco has operated recently. Think about it this way: Prying away Wallace from the Steelers would require parting with draft compensation and valuing Wallace more than Pittsburgh values him. That is an unlikely double. The 49ers have taken care in determining which players to value the most, focusing on their own. That will presumably continue.
The 49ers might not agree with outside assessments of their roster or team needs. A rookie contract dispute, injuries, coaching changes and a lockout have prevented Michael Crabtree from experiencing a normal NFL offseason. That should finally change in 2012. Crabtree generally played well during the regular season. Vernon Davis came on strong as a receiver late in the season, once he had time to digest the playbook. The 49ers might be more apt to supplement their receiving ranks, as opposed to overhauling it from the top down.
The AFC North blog's Jamison Hensley addressed potential interest in Wallace from Baltimore and Cincinnati. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome used the phrase "double-whammy" when describing the draft compensation and inflated contract required to land a prized restricted free agent. The Bengals already have A.J. Green, making Wallace seem more like a luxury than a player Cincinnati needs to have.
Wallace would look good in any NFC West uniform. Imagine the damage he could do opposite Larry Fitzgerald or Sidney Rice, even amid quarterback concerns. The Rams obviously need weapons for Sam Bradford as well.
The Steelers will ultimately control whether Wallace leaves. They have every reason to keep him, in my view.