Bet you anything there isn't one Steelers player who holds it against Mike Wallace for not being at training camp. Players know better than anyone that the NFL is a cold, cruel, ugly business. Wallace's contract issue today could be theirs next July. They want to see Wallace get every dollar he can. They're going to want theirs when the time comes.
But that doesn't mean that one of Wallace's teammates -- that would be you, Big Ben -- shouldn't intervene and tell him he's going about this contract thing all wrong. The Steelers have all the leverage. Wallace has none. He can't win by staying away from camp. He can't make the really big money unless he plays this season for the Steelers. They no longer will negotiate a long-term contract with him unless he gets to camp. He has to sign his one-year franchise tender for $2,742,000, report to work at Saint Vincent College and allow his people and their people to get back to work on the contract business.
Where's Jerome Bettis when you need him?
It was Bettis who stepped up for Hines Ward when Ward faced a similar contract dilemma with the Steelers and missed a lot of camp before the 2005 season. Ward idolized Bettis to the point that, if Bettis told him to jump off the Clemente Bridge, he probably would. You might remember Ward crying like a baby after the Steelers lost to New England in the AFC championship game after the '04 season because he thought Bettis was going to retire without getting to a Super Bowl.
Bettis, who ended up sticking around for the '05 season, told Ward to step back from his agent, Eugene Parker, and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and lead negotiator Omar Khan and go directly to coach Bill Cowher. Ward immediately made the telephone call. Cowher professed his love for Ward as a player and made it clear how much he valued having him on the team.
"For me, I needed to hear that from my head coach," Ward said the next day after reporting to camp and ending his 15-day holdout. Colbert and Khan quickly resumed contract talks with Parker and worked out a new, lucrative deal with Ward before the season. Ward helped lead the team to a win in Super Bowl XL and was named the game's MVP.
Maybe it will work out just as well for Wallace and the Steelers.
It's a nice thought, right?
Ben Roethlisberger is the best person to call Wallace. Maybe it would have been James Farrior -- like Bettis, one of the best leaders in Steelers history -- but the team released him after last season. That's the ugly business side of pro football.
Roethlisberger made it clear Thursday how much he treasures having Wallace as a teammate. Why not? The two have made beautiful music together during Wallace's three years in the league. Every quarterback wants a receiver with Wallace's incredible speed. They all love having a home-run hitter to get behind the defensive backs and catch the football.
"Mike is a great friend and teammate," Roethlisberger said. "We'd love to have him here. He helps this team so much. I hope he gets here. I hope he gets here soon."
It isn't hard to imagine coach Mike Tomlin giving Wallace the same love if Wallace called him. No, Tomlin isn't happy that Wallace isn't in camp. This is different than when Wallace missed the organized team activities and minicamp this spring. Tomlin wants him at Saint Vincent to learn new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's offense and to get on the same page again with Roethlisberger. He made perfect sense when he talked Wednesday of how no one -- including himself -- is bigger than the team. Of course, that was easy for him to say after he agreed earlier in the week to a contract extension through 2016 that set him and his family up for life.
But Tomlin and especially Colbert have often said publicly they want to keep Wallace for a long time. "We want Mike to finish his career with the Steelers," Colbert has said. "We're going to do everything we can. We think he's only scratched the surface of what he can do."
When the Steelers really want a player, they almost always get him. But a long-term deal with Wallace can't happen until he signs the one-year tender and gets to Latrobe. If he thinks the Steelers are going to blink, he's badly mistaken. They never blink when it comes to contracts. They didn't blink with Ward, didn't blink in 1988 with All-Pro Mike Merriweather, who sat out the season, didn't even blink in '84 with Hall of Famer Franco Harris, who was released. There's no way they blink with Wallace.
Roethlisberger needs to call Wallace. Wallace needs to call Tomlin. Wallace needs to get to camp.
The two sides need to work out a long-term deal.
Today isn't soon enough to get started.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.