The Steelers made a surprise move today by extending a wide receiver, but not the wide receiver many would have expected. With Mike Wallace still holding out and ownership refusing to negotiate with him until he reports, the Steelers turned their attention to Antonio Brown, who was set to be a restricted free agent, much like Wallace is now, next offseason. Brown was given 42.5 million over 5 years, which covers him from 2013-2017, but I’m not going to talk much about what he’s making.
He’s being paid fairly as a just turned 24 year old receiver, after catching 69 passes for 1108 yards and 2 touchdowns in just his 2nd season after going in the 6th round in the 2010 NFL Draft. They may have overpaid for a one year wonder, but had he repeated last season in 2012, he could have commanded a ton of money next offseason. Considering Pierre Garcon, who has never had 1000 yards in a season despite being almost 2 years older and more experienced, got the same deal, this is a good value. There’s not that much to say here.
However, this deal could lead to a Mike Wallace trade. The Steelers have felt all along that they have two #1 receivers, Wallace and Brown, a reasonable thing to think since both surpassed 1100 yards in 2011. However, the Steelers are very backed up against the cap, with Pro Football Talk estimating them at about 3.73 million of cap space and figure to be backed up against the cap next offseason as well, after restructuring several contracts just to get under the cap this offseason.
Given that, I don’t think they’ve ever been able to keep both Brown and Wallace, who will both command #1 receiver money. With Wallace holding out, demanding Larry Fitzgerald money and rejecting a deal similar to this 5 year, 42.5 million dollar deal, and Brown agreeing to sign long term, the decision may have been made for them. They now have even less cap space to sign Wallace long term and may decide to trade him, make Antonio Brown their true #1 receiver, and plug Emmanuel Sanders, a good depth receiver, into the starting lineup opposite Brown.
This deal also makes sure they avoid a similar situation to the Mike Wallace one next offseason when Brown, whose career arc is starting to look very similar to Wallace’s, will be an unrestricted free agent. Also, if Wallace agrees to play out the season on his one year tender (very unlikely, especially after Brown get paid), the Steelers will have the franchise tag freed up for next offseason.
If the Steelers decide to make Wallace available via trade, they’ll have no shortage of suitors. No one signed Wallace to an offer sheet when they could have had him for a 1st round pick before the draft, so I don’t think they’ll be able to get that. However, this situation does remind me of the Brandon Marshall situation a few offseasons ago.
Marshall was a restricted free agent who could have been had for a 1st round pick. No one was willing to pay that price, but the Dolphins were willing to give up a pair of 2nd round picks so they essentially did the NFL’s version of a sign and trade with the Broncos, signed Marshall long term and sent a pair of 2nd round picks to Denver. The Steelers should be able to at least get that for Wallace.
Making that move would allow them to get cheaper and younger for the future and to move on from a malcontent wide receiver who is demanding more money than he’s worth. Receiver needy teams who could make sense for Wallace in a trade include St. Louis, Seattle, Carolina, Minnesota, Indianapolis, Buffalo, and the Jets. Cleveland, Baltimore, and Cincinnati all need receiver help as well, but it’s unlikely that the Steelers would agree to trade Wallace in the division.