Pro Bowl receiver Mike Wallace returned to the Steelers today and said he is glad to be back with his teammates and ready to begin the regular season.
Wallace reported to the Steelers offices on the South Side shortly before 11:30 a.m. and signed the one-year, $2.7 million tender he was offered in March. The Steelers never lowered or rescinded the tender, something they could have done since June under the league's labor agreement.
"My teammates need me," Wallace said when asked why he decided to report after missing nearly all of training camp. "It's time to get ready for the season. I felt like it was time to go. I'm ready to roll. I'm here. That's really all that matters to me."
Wallace has to go through a three-day acclimation period before he is allowed to practice or play -- meaning he won't be in uniform Thursday night for the final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
It also means he won't be able to practice with the team until Monday when they start preparing for the Sept. 9 season opener in Denver. Right now, the Steelers are not scheduled to practice Friday, Saturday or Sunday after the Carolina game.
But he thinks he will be able to play when the Steelers open the season Dec. 9 in Denver. Wallace has spent the past two weeks working out at ESPN's Wide World of Sports training complex in Orlando, Fla.
"The first couple days, I might be a little more tired than some of the guys, but not because I'm not in shape," Wallace said. "It's because it's different with pads on. I'll be ready when it's time to go Sunday night against Denver. I'm ready to play ball."
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley said he didn't think it would be a big problem for Wallace to play against the Broncos.
"You're talking about a guy who's a wide receiver, a pass-catcher," Haley said. "It's not a running back or someone who has to be in the action of the game. I think it's feasible he's ready to go when we start this thing up."
The Steelers have said they would not continue negotiations on a long-term contract until Wallace reported to the team. Now that he has, there is no guarantee they will be able to sign him.
For starters, the Steelers are not overly confident they can come to some long-term agreement because they believe Wallace wants to seek bigger money on the free-agent market.
Also, the window for signing Wallace to a new contract has diminished greatly, especially if the Steelers hold to their long-standing rule not to negotiate contracts once the regular season has started.
But it appears that rule could be stretched, if the Steelers feel they are making some kind of progress with Wallace.
"I'd love to be here," Wallace said. "This is the team that drafted me, this is where I want to stay. But I'm not worried about down the road. I'm just worried about playing football right now. That's the only thing on my mind. Y'all might think I'm just saying that, but that's it. I'm not worried about none of that."
When Wallace did not report to training camp on July 25, the Steelers wasted little time signing wide receiver Antonio Brown to a six-year, $48 million contract extension.
Even if the Steelers cannot sign Wallace to a long-term contract, they can still put the franchise tag on him after the season and keep him for at least one more year.
"I wanted to get something done," Wallace said of his holdout. "My whole time, I never wanted to be away from my teammates. I love my teammates and I love this organization. I never once wanted to be away. But that's the business side of it. We handled it the way we had to."
Wallace's arrival means Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew is the only NFL player to remain a holdout. His teammates welcomed him back with open arms.
"He's a part of this team, he's one of our brothers and we're going to embrace him," said Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison. "What he does as far as the business is business, and he has to do what's best for him."
"It's part of the business," said safety Ryan Clark, the team's player representative. "Someone like me, who sees the uglier side of the business, you understand when it's your opportunity, when it's your time to get a contract for the long-term, you have to seize it and jump on it. That's what Mike did.
"We all have egos. It's the reason we play this game and the reason we want to do well. We don't want to be embarrassed. We don't want to go out there and not play well. As a receiver, you don't want to drop balls, you don't want to run wrong routes. Mike is going to come here with that frame of mind. If he wants to get the type of contract he's searching for, he has to play well. He knows that."
Harrison, who posted a locker-room interview with Wallace on his Twitter account, said he doesn't think it will take long for Wallace to get back in the flow of the offense under new coordinator Todd Haley.
Gerry Dulac: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published August 28, 2012 3:45 PM