By now, you likely know the story of Mike Wallace. He’s been holding out in search of a new long-term contract, rejecting a previous offer from the Steelers and refusing to report under his one-year tender. The Steelers then decided to lock up the guy that did show up to work, signing Antonio Brown to a five-year extension and likely leaving no room for a long-term deal with Wallace. That has caused plenty of speculation that the Steelers will try and trade Wallace, a fantasy WR1 and third-to-fourth round pick in early mock drafts. Will he be playing for another team in 2012?
First off, we need to understand the situation. Wallace will be a restricted free agent next year, costing a third-round pick for a team that signs him to an offer sheet. It’s fair to assume that it would take at least a third-round pick for the Steelers to deal Wallace as a result, though the Post-Gazette speculates he could be traded for a fourth-rounder. But it takes two to tango — would a team be willing to give up a pick in the second-to-fourth rounds to land him?
I think there’s a very good chance a team approaches the Steelers and meets their asking price, whatever that may be. The question is, will the Steelers actually make the trade? Here are the five teams I think will be the most interested in Wallace:
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have made significant strides at the receiver position this off-season, bringing in Randy Moss and Mario Manningham while drafting A.J. Jenkins. Throw in Michael Crabtree, and is receiver even a position of need? Absolutely. Moss is signed for 2012 only, while Manningham is signed through 2013. A bigger concern: none of the listed players project as a No. 1 receiver, especially not one of Wallace’s caliber. The 49ers have less than $4 million of cap space this year, but if they feel they could land a starting QB in next year’s draft, or that Colin Kaepernick or Josh Johnson could handle starting duties, Alex Smith could be a cap casualty in 2013, paying him just $1 million of his $10 million salary. Best of all for the 49ers, they own Carolina’s third-round pick in 2013 after a draft-day trade in the 2012 draft, as well as an extra fifth-round pick. If they offer the Steelers their 2013 third-round pick, it would be hard for Pittsburgh to say no.
The Bengals seem set up to be the perfect team to jump on Wallace. They have a lot of space under the cap ($16.3 million as of mid-July) and could presumably offer a high first-year salary as a result. The team has a need for another starting-caliber wide receiver, as Brandon Tate is an early training camp starter at WR. With Wallace across from budding superstar A.J. Green, it would be a pick-your-poison scenario for NFL defenses. Additionally, the Bengals have an extra second-round pick in the 2013 draft by virtue of the Carson Palmer trade, mitigating the damage done by trading away a mid-round pick. However, despite the pieces adding up, it’s highly unlikely the Steelers would trade Wallace to a division rival, especially one who could pass them as yearly favorites with the addition of the talented wide receiver. But if no other teams offer more than a fourth-round pick and the Bengals are willing to go as high as a second-rounder, can the Steelers say no?
St. Louis Rams
The Rams have less than $4 million of cap space available but could free up a great deal more if they can agree to an extension with Chris Long. With Jason Smith’s reworked contract calling for a roster bonus of over $11 million next offseason likely resulting in his eventual release (unless he reverses a trend and turns in a quality season), the Rams seem like they can make room for a Wallace contract pretty easily, although it could depend on how new contracts for Long and James Laurinaitis unfold. The team is also working on a new deal with Steven Jackson, the details of which will be critical for the prospects of a Wallace deal. They have the benefit of an extra first-round pick both in 2013 and 2014 courtesy of the Redskins, which would make dealing a mid-round pick for Wallace an easier pill to swallow. The need certainly is there, as they could very well be starting two rookies at the receiver position at this point.
The Seahawks must have serious reservations about relying on Sidney Rice long-term as a No. 1 receiver after he missed 17 of a possble 32 games over the last two seasons. He also underwent surgeries on each shoulder this offseason, and if he doesn’t step up and stay healthy in 2012, he could be an offseason cut for the Seahawks, with the team owing him just $2 million of his signing bonus after this year. The team also has cap room to play with on top of the more than $8 million they currently own, in the form of Tarvaris Jackson and Kellen Winslow, the latter of whom cost just a seventh-round pick to acquire and could presumably be cut at any time. If the Seahawks have designs on making a 2012 run and they feel Marshawn Lynch could be unavailable for a lengthy amount of time due to a suspension, they could add the playmaking Wallace to give the offense a shot in the arm.
The Dolphins likely have the worst receiving corps in the league right now after trading Brandon Marshall to the Bears. That trade netted them two third-round picks; how fitting would it be to trade that 2013 third-rounder for Wallace? The Dolphins can save a lot of cap space by letting Reggie Bush walk in 2013, and with several other contracts expiring after this season, they should have ample room to keep Jake Long and still manage a Wallace contract. When you consider that wide receiver is their most desperate need, it would only seem logical for the Dolphins to at least place a call and see if they can work something out.
Here are three other teams that I think could be in the race for Wallace’s services via trade:
The Broncos made a huge commitment to Peyton Manning this off-season, so how about bringing in a proven No. 1 target to fortify the team’s status as a 2012 contender? Denver is more than $11 million under the cap this season and has a few looming contract decisions to make about Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in the coming years. A Wallace-Thomas-Decker three-receiver set seems particularly dangerous, especially when you throw Jacob Tamme into the mix. Signing Manning and trading Tim Tebow signaled the Broncos’ objective to win now, and the addition of Wallace could go a long way.
The Bills just handed a huge FA contract to Mario Williams, and they have Ryan Fitzpatrick and Steve Johnson locked up long-term. Is there enough money left over for a Wallace addition? Depending on the decision to bring back 2013 unrestricted free agents Leodis McKelvin, Shawne Merriman, Spencer Johnson as well as the contract guard Andy Levitre will require, the Bills could make it work. But is this the best use of resources for the Bills? Fitzpatrick seems ill-equipped to take advantage of Wallace’s big-play availability, as his arm strength (ranked 31st out of starting QBs in this Bleacher Report article) has been called into question repeatedly in the past.
The Texans may not have the cap space ($4 million or so) or the extra picks of the Bengals, but they may be one of the few contenders with a bigger hole at that second starting receiver spot than Cincinnati. The Texans are also a stronger title hopeful, a heavy favorite to win the AFC South for a second straight year. But with extensions needed for Duane Brown, Connor Barwin and Matt Schaub, and with Andre Johnson’s salary jumping in 2013, it’s hard to imagine the Texans will have room for a long-term contract for Wallace.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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