Pittsburgh will roll the dice somewhat on wide receiver Mike Wallace, giving other teams at least a shot at signing him if they prefer. The Steelers will tender Wallace, their leading receiver the past two seasons, at the high of $2.742 million. That will bring them a first-round draft choice if he signs elsewhere and they decline to match the deal.
It's a gamble because while the Steelers think no one will sign Wallace, there is of course no telling if a team with a late pick in the first round or even two of them, and plenty of room under the cap, will make a run at Wallace.
Pittsburgh is in a tough spot in this situation for many reasons. The Steelers had to restructure a handful of salaries and cut another handful of longtime veterans, some of their best players in this century, and that only put them roughly $10 million under the cap.
Counting tenders they must make to other RFAs, that does not leave them much room to sign anyone to a big contract, and Wallace will want a big contract. Anyone wanting to sign him would have to start with the contract that Buffalo recently gave to wide receiver Stevie Johnson before he would have been an unrestricted free agent. The Bills signed Johnson to a reported five-year, $36.25 million contract, including $19.5 million guaranteed.
Wallace's agent would be nuts to accept anything lower, and the Steelers may not be willing to go that high. They also have in mind one Antonio Brown, who finished his second season impressing some in the organization as a potential better overall receiver than Wallace. Brown will be a restricted free agent this time next year, and they want to keep him.
"We understand there could be offers coming in. Mike is a significant player," GM Kevin Colbert said. "But ultimately it's our decision whether or not we're going to match an offer. So we still have control over the situation. Even though he could get offers from the outside, ultimately we'll make the decision whether Mike's going to be a Steeler or not.
"We want Mike to finish his career here," but ... "We may have to make a tough decision, but again, it will be our call."
They would like to keep veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who signed a one-year deal last August after begging off the Jets' roster. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has lobbied for Cotchery's return.
Starting cornerback William Gay, starting left tackle Max Starks, punter Daniel Sepulveda and versatile backup offensive lineman Trai Essex are also free agent. Starks, recovering from ACL surgery, won't be back unless it's later in the season if they need help at tackle. The Steelers plan to move Marcus Gilbert from right tackle to left because Willie Colon has returned to play right tackle.
Besides Wallace, they must decide what tenders to issue other restricted free agents, including both starting guards, Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster, fullback/tight end David Johnson, No. 3 cornerback Keenan Lewis and backup safety Ryan Mundy.
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