And so the plot continues to thicken in the Steel City.

Mike Wallace, the explosive wide receiver for Pittsburgh, continues to refuse to sign his restricted free agent contract on the day before the first Steelers preseason matchup. After the Steelers made a good-faith gesture and declined to reduce his RFA contract tender, negotiations continued until training camp commenced. Wallace didn’t show, and the sides ceased to communicate.

While Wallace was requesting a Larry Fitzgerald-style mega-contract, Steelers’ general manager Kevin Colbert was interested in a contract more reflective of the player has been - not the player he could potentially become. Wallace’s speed allows him to beat a defense over the top or by running screens and slants, but he has yet to master the more footwork-intensive routes.

Just ask Maurice Jones-Drew; a developing star is not paid for potential, but rather sacrifices future money for present security. The player does not have to worry about a career-ending injury, and the team does not have to over-commit to a player who never fully matures.

With Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette cryptically tweeting of rumors about possible reunion between the Steelers and Plaxico Burress to “replace Mike Wallace,” how do you think this is going to play out, Dave?

On the one hand, during the year Burress and Ben Roethlisberger spent together Burress had a career-high 19.9 yards per catch, and Roethlisberger chucked it at a career-high 8.9 yards per attempt. On the other hand, Burress’ has seen his physical skills rapidly decline to become more of a red-zone threat.

Dave, do you think that Burress and Roethlisberger could rekindle the magic that caused Burress to score a touchdown once every seven catches? Would Burress replace or compliment Wallace if it even did happen? And how do you think Wallace’s unfamiliarity with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s playbook will affect his season and pending unrestricted free agency?

With the Steelers’ and Colbert’s history of ridding themselves of malcontent wideouts, including Santonio Holmes and Burress himself, what do we have to look forward to in Pittsburgh?

Dave’s Response

Of all the questions Shawn has posed to me, this is the one that should receive the best response as I have watched nearly every Steeler game over the past decade and a half. Anyone who read my article on Mike Wallace’s holdout knows that I side with the Steelers over Mike Wallace in this situation.

That being said, I am still not sure what to expect or want to happen with this carousel. The obvious solution would be for Wallace to sign the tender for 2.7 million dollars, show up to training camp immediately and play his butt off to get an even bigger contract next season. Then, the Steelers will have the option of franchise tagging him and offering him a long-term deal or letting him hit the open market.

But it may be a little too late for that. Wallace believes he deserves more money than the Steelers think he deserves. That’s the bottom line and main problem here. It’s not that Mike Wallace did not sign the tender, that problem arose because the two sides could not reach a long-term deal.

Fans will argue both sides until everyone is blue in the face. Some will say Wallace is worth more than 2.7 million, and he should take the Steelers to the bank, while others will question Wallace’s character for sitting out and believing he is more vital to the team than he really is. But like any divorce, no side can really be in the right.

The rumors about Plaxico Burress, on the other hand, just throw a whole new wrinkle in this already complex situation. Pittsburgh put pressure on Wallace to show when they signed fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown to a five-year contract worth $45 million which was the same amount the Steelers originally offered Wallace. Now to further pressure him, Pittsburgh wants to sign a replacement for Wallace, and Burress seems like an obvious choice.

Let’s not think for one minute, however, that Burress, especially at this point in his career, is anywhere close to the talents of Wallace. Wide Receivers Brown and Emmanuel Sanders would be the starters with Burress as a red zone threat and Jerricho Cotchery helping in the slot. Still not a bad receiving core, but Wallace makes it one of the best in the league.

Although Burress is a big risk, at this point, it may be wise for Kevin Colbert to sign Burress to a contract worth, say, 2.7 million dollars. That way, the Steelers are telling Wallace they are moving on, and if Wallace decides to show, Pittsburgh can cut Burress and give his contract to Wallace. It remains to be seen if anything like this will happen.
Now that I have laid out the facts in an objective way, I will now interject my opinion. We all know that the National Football League is a business; players have very little loyalty to the teams that drafted them especially if that team does not have an open wallet. One of those teams and cities that has come to expect loyalty, however, is the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsburgh is a blue collared city that loves to work. Do you really think Steeler fans are going to side with a prima donna wide receiver who refuses to show up for work because he wants to get paid more than 45 million dollars? And other fans around the league think Pittsburgh has done wrong by him because they had the guts to say to a star player ‘take a hike’ when he was trying to take advantage of them? Good for Colbert and the Steelers; they truly understand that winning comes first, and if a player does not understand that, then they are gone.

Sure, if Wallace’s only objective in his career is to make as much money as possible, then he may be doing the right thing by holding out. If he sits out and finds another team next year, some other team won’t care that Wallace’s lacks character. One could argue that if he plays for 2.7 million this year and works his tail off, he could demand an even bigger contract next year. Either way, he will get his payday which seems to be the only thing Wallace cares about.

For my finally thought, I am going to return to the NFL working as a business idea. Even though every fiber of my childhood being wants to believe every player loves the game for just the game that is not true. Players love the game for what comes with playing it.

But if players want to be treated like business men, then they should act like professionals. That means players cannot fail to show up to work and then demand a raise. They can’t have it both ways. No other business works that way. If someone in a ‘real business’ did not show up to work and demanded a raise, the company would find another worker even if they were not as talented. What the Steelers are doing is no different.

Shawn’s Conclusion

I can truthfully say, Dave, that if I were an agent, I would not be excited about negotiating with you.

Wallace’s situation reminds me of Vincent Jackson’s refusal to sign his tender in 2010. Jackson held out until Week 10, showing up just in time to accrue another season of service to reach unrestricted free agency.

The big difference is not in talent level, but Jackson is more of a refined route runner and effective red zone threat. The closest that the Chargers could come to replacing Jackson on the outside at the time of his hold-out was Malcom Floyd. The Chargers slapped the franchise tag on Jackson the next season, and Jackson had the benefit of spending a season rehabilitating his image – an opportunity that Wallace will not be afforded.

While I am still not completely sold on the Burress speculation, he would immediately become the best red-zone receiver on the Steelers’ roster. They did bring him in for a visit last season, so the rumor certainly does have legs.

It must be speculated that this could be motivation to let Wallace know that this is his last chance return before being buried on the depth chart only to enter free agency surrounded by question marks. The Steelers must build their offense around the players on the field, however, so a decision will need to be made soon on a veteran signing.

Dave, we know all 31 other teams had a chance this offseason to give up a first round draft pick to acquire Wallace. If any of the other teams thought that Wallace was an elite receiver, they would not have hesitated to pull the trigger.

In the marketplace, demand determines price, and Wallace does not look to be in line to hit the V-Jax jackpot at his current state of development. If he does not report for camp, improve his route running, and adapt to a new offensive scheme, then he will probably only end up signing a minimal, one-year prove-it contract.

Probably for around, oh, say, $2.7 million.

Previous Bump and Run Articles

- Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons
- Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans
- Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens
- Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints
- Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals