Are Steelers driving up price for Wallace?

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
9:00
AM ET
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gene Collier posed an interesting theory on general manager Kevin Colbert's recent glowing remarks about wide receiver Mike Wallace. You know, the ones where Colbert said "we're going to do everything we can to keep Mike" and "we want Mike to finish his career with the Steelers."

Collier wrote that "it's not impossible" that the Steelers are intentionally trying to drive the price up on Wallace, who is a restricted free agent. That way, the Steelers would get a first-round pick for Wallace as well as force a potential rival like the New England Patriots to take on a big contract for a wide receiver who disappeared in the second half of the season.

Wallace
Wallace
I'm not buying it. I really believe the Steelers are going to try to do everything they can to keep Wallace. Of course, everything they can do under their current salary-cap situation. If they put the $2.7 million first-round tender on Wallace, the Steelers can match any offer from another team or get a first-round pick as compensation. If they use the $9.4 million franchise tag on him, the Steelers would essentially keep him because it would take two first-round picks to pry him away. That might sound like a lot of money for a wide receiver, but New England's Wes Welker and Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe are both expected to be given the franchise tag.

Critics argue that Wallace isn't worth big money because he failed to produce 100 yards receiving in his final nine games (including the playoff loss at Denver), and he's averaged 34 yards receiving in eight postseason games. But Wallace's value goes beyond such numbers, especially for a Steelers offense that is looking to become more balanced.

When Wallace lines up, there are going to be two safeties playing deep whether he catches the ball or not. The threat of him getting behind cornerbacks causes the defense to play the Steelers a certain way, and it improves the Steelers' chances of success in running the ball.

Without Wallace, you'll see more defenses dropping a safety into the box. The Steelers would still have Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders at wide receiver, but neither stretch the field consistently like Wallace. And neither would draw the same respect as Wallace, who has the most catches of 25 yards or more in the NFL over the past two seasons.

I agree with Colbert that the 25-year-old Wallace has "only scratched the surface of what he can do." Even if he doesn't improve, what you're getting from Wallace is pretty good. With Wallace, you're assured of getting about 1,200 yards receiving (which will usually be among the top 10 in the NFL) and nine touchdowns. You're also getting a wide receiver who will get most of the attention from defenses, freeing up the No. 2 receiver like Brown to get open.

If another team would take Wallace, the Steelers would get an additional first-round pick that they can use to improve the offensive or defensive line. But this isn't about what Pittsburgh gains. It's about what Pittsburgh loses.

We'll find out how committed the Steelers are to Wallace in a week. The deadline to put the franchise tag on a player is March 5.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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