It’s not time to panic just yet. But with the start of free agency just mere weeks away it’s starting to become all too real just how difficult a situation the Steelers are in when it comes to the biggest deep threat in the league, Mike Wallace. It’s important to know the facts, without getting bogged down in too much math, but an informed Steeler fan is a powerful Steeler fan so let’s break this down.
Here are the facts:
- Wallace will be a restricted free agent when the free agency period begins on March 13th
- The Steelers have until March 5th to place a Franchise Tag on Wallace
- The Steelers are still about $5-$8 million over the projected cap
Now what do these facts mean?
A restricted free agent means the other teams can make offers to Wallace but the Steelers will always have the opportunity to match the offer. If another team offers Wallace a contract that the Steelers are either unable or unwilling to match, the Steelers are compensated with that team’s 1st round draft pick. Unfortunately, with the Steelers having the cap issues they are having, this means that teams can offer Wallace a contract that’s heavy in bonus money that pays up front and takes a big cap it, in that case the Steelers hands are tied and can’t do anything but wave good bye to Wallace.
Let’s address this Franchise Tag thing once and for all. I’ve seen it thrown out all over Twitter and FB like it’s the option that solves all problems. A franchise tag keeps Wallace to a one year contract with the Steelers but at the average of the top paid player at that position over the last five seasons. That would amount to about $9.5 million for a one year contract for Wallace. That would mean that between now and March 5th the Steelers would have to finish cutting the rest of the money they are currently over the cap and keep cutting until they can afford the $9.5 million plus all the other contracts that need to be signed this offseason that will count towards the cap. Not likely. Not only is this not the best option for the Steelers, it’s not even the best option for Wallace. Wallace is most likely looking for, and deserves, a long term deal with whatever team is lucky enough to secure him.
About that cap. Between Colbert and Khan and the past few weeks the Steelers have cut about $21 million from the cap with all of the contract restructuring that’s been going on. There is still about $5-$8 (depending on what you’re reading) left to be cut from the projected cap. Seems to me that the Steelers went a little hog wild signing contracts during the uncapped year before the CBA expired and now with the restraints of the salary cap, they might be screwed. I have all kinds of faith in Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan’s abilities to keep on moving with their slashing of contracts to get the salary cap right where it needs to be in order to make the moves they need to make and keep the players they need to keep. Everyone from Art Rooney II down to Colbert has said that their big priority of the offseason was resigning Wallace.
What does this all mean? Wallace himself has stated that he wants to stay in Pittsburgh, but realizes the difficulties that lie with that. Both sides are apparently talking and hopefully negotiating a contract restructure. If the Steelers can extend Wallace’s contract before the deadline, he doesn’t become a restricted free agent and we won’t have to worry about the harsh possibility of seeing Tom Brady throw 60 yard bombs down field to Wallace. Unfortunately, Colbert has stated in an interview earlier that the team had no intentions on extending any of the FA’s before the deadline and are going to do all the negotiating within free agency. I’m thinking that the Steelers best financial option when it comes to Wallace is to restructure and extend his contract before the deadline, hopefully Colbert and Khan think that way too.
This isn’t an issue of Wallace wanting more money or trying to force the Steelers hand or anything like that. Wallace has definitely earned the right to a long term deal. The Steelers are just not in the position they probably want to be in when it comes to keeping their number one receiver. There is always the option that if Wallace is lost to free agency at least the Steelers will receive another first round draft pick and still have standout young WR’s Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders to keep Ben and his pass-happy arm satisfied. I personally don’t like that option, I think Colbert and Khan come through big time like we’ve never seen before and sign Wallace and even balance my budget so I can afford to go to multiple games this season. A girl can dream, can’t she?
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