As humidity at the initial training camp practices reaches near-suffocating levels, things in Latrobe just became much stickier.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace has refused to sign
his one-year tender as an unrestricted free agent. As training camp neared negotiations for a long-term deal began progressing, but when Wallace failed to report for training camp, the Steelers promptly ceased negotiations.
This year's training camp could have had a large bearing on Wallace’s financial future, as new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s offense has helped Larry Fitzgerald, Terrell Owens and Dwayne Bowe to some of their best seasons.
Haley has begun installing his new offense with Emmanuel Sanders, a player who appeared to be poised to break out last season before falling victim to injury, in Wallace’s spot. At the flanker position, 2011 team MVP Antonio Brown has garnered praise in the new system.
The Steelers set a precedence of not honoring such bad-faith negotiation tactics when Hines Ward staged a lengthy holdout in 2005. While many were wondering how Wallace’s new contract would affect the new contract that Brown was due in 2013, the Steelers decided to reward Brown while shooting a warning at Wallace, who lost a great deal of leverage upon the signing.
The Steelers have long been known for their next man up strategy, and they found a perfect situation in which to emphasize it. The grinding, precise and well-rounded Brown received a 5 year contract extension
. The explosive, yet still rough around the edges Wallace's position is being filled by a player in Sanders who Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could build into, well, the next Mike Wallace.
While high-end receivers receive monster paydays and can dominate a team’s offense, the next tier down, the Mario Manninghams of the NFL, receive sub-par paydays despite Super Bowl heroics. It is a fine line between rich and filthy rich, and Wallace has little leverage as a player who is still climbing to elite status.
The message is clear, the Steelers are rewarding the players who show a more selfless attitude. Big Ben suffered through trade rumblings after creating a few offseason distractions in Georgia and Sin City. He transformed his perception by his teammates and the public and worked his way back into the franchise’s good graces.
So Wallace needs to put the pen to paper, spend a year showing a greater ability to run the complete route tree, and cash in big on the 2013 market. The odds of that happened were increased once Brown inked his new deal.