I just spent a week in the Adirondacks with the extended family. It’s the fourth year in a row we’ve done it, always during the first week of training camp. In general, nothing much happens those first few days. Casey Hampton fails the conditioning test, Big Ben’s arm is sore from too much throwing, and Mike Tomlin wears all black and dusts off the Tomlinisms from the previous season.
This year was different in one distinct way: the Steelers paid one of their best wide receivers and it wasn’t Mike Wallace. When I saw Gretz’s email (there was no phone service in the Adirondacks so, just like it was 2002, I had to actually log on to my laptop to get internet access — rustic indeed), I was surprised but not altogether shocked.
Even before free agency, I was wondering if the organization should take any first-round tenders that came their way if another team tried to sign Wallace. I believe JJ talked me out of it on one of the podcasts, but listen, Wallace has absolutely no leverage. He didn’t have any in March, he didn’t have any in May, and he doesn’t have any now, days into training camp.
And while I think he’s a great player, he’s not going to be the difference between winning a Super Bowl and going 8-8. He was on the field for the second half of last season — including the Broncos playoff loss — and he might as well have been wearing No. 89 with “Mays” sewn across his back. That’s a slight exaggeration but here’s my point: it doesn’t matter how fast he runs, if he’s not making plays, he ain’t worth Larry Fitzgerald money.
To be fair, Wallace tweeted something to the effect of we shouldn’t believe everything we hear, but he’s clearly asking for more than Brown’s five-year, $42 million extension, which he’s worth. But here’s what CBSSports.com’s Jason La Canfora wrote recently regarding, well, all this stuff:
“There is a budget in place to sign Wallace. And, again, as I advised in this space oh those many weeks ago, Wallace needs to try to get as close as he can to a five-year, $50 million deal — with $25 million guaranteed — and call it a day. Wisely, sources said Wallace came off his desire to be paid like a Larry Fitzgerald a few weeks ago, when things were progressing, and trying to get a deal around $11 million a year like Vincent Jackson got from Tampa is the new goal.”
(It’s also worth noting — as JJ did at the time — that some of Wallace’s struggles could be traced back to Ben’s bum ankle. I can’t dispute that but I would note that Ben’s peg-leg cowboy impression didn’t hinder Brown’s game.)
It’s easy for me to say that Wallace should just take the $50 mil over five years and $25 mil guaranteed but I understand why he might think he’s worth more. In general, I’m all for guys getting all they can, when they can. At some point, however, reality has to factor into the decision-making process. Wallace ain’t winning a pissing contest with the Steelers. And the longer he waits, the more pressure he’ll face to play well in 2012 on a $2.7 million deal. And if he does that — and his expectations remain unrealistically high — Pittsburgh could just choose to franchise him next spring. And they could do it again 12 months later.
Is it fair? Hell no. But as Tomlin once said early in his Steelers tenure, pressure isn’t winning a game, pressure is working two jobs to provide for your family. In the scheme of things, Wallace has it pretty good, no matter what happens.
Speaking strictly in terms of football, though, he’s not helping himself. Just the opposite. And whatever he decides, the Steelers will be just fine. If he shows, great. If he sits, that’s okay, too. Going into the season with Brown, Manny Sanders, Jericho Cotchery, the three tight ends (Weslye Saunders will miss the first four games because of suspension) and a couple young shifty running backs (Baron Batch and Chris Rainey) who may or may not even make the game-day roster isn’t ideal, but this team won a Super Bowl with Cedrick Wilson, Antwaan Randle El and Hines Ward as its three primary receivers, a second-year quarterback, a solid running game and a really good defense.
Wallace or not, the 2012 offense is better than the ’05 version and I’d feel comfortable saying the same about the defense (although if you want to call it a draw I wouldn’t object). Yes, the Steelers are in an entirely new offense, but I don’t think it’ll be much of an impediment. At least not to the guys who showed up this spring and are now in Latrobe. Which brings us back to Wallace.
“Mike understands that for any steps to be taken,” Colbert told La Canfora, “he has to come here and report to camp and sign his tender and then we’ll see where it goes.”