Arms wide open: Steelers want to keep Wallace in the fold

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INDIANAPOLIS -- With an NFL-best 27 catches of 40 yards or longer in three seasons with the Steelers, Mike Wallace has shown that he can run away from just about every defensive back in the league.

But no matter how fast Wallace can run, the Steelers do not plan to let their third-year wide receiver get away from them.

Not according to general manager Kevin Colbert.

"The thing I can say for sure about Mike is that we want Mike to finish his career with the Steelers," Colbert said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. "And I'm very confident Mike wants to finish his career with the Steelers and play with a great quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger and the other receivers we have."

Wallace, a Pro Bowl receiver who led the team with 72 catches, 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns last season, is a restricted free agent -- meaning he is allowed to talk with other teams and even receive an offer sheet if someone is interested in signing him.

However, the Steelers are expected to offer Wallace the highest tender they can as a restricted free agent -- a move Colbert said will not occur until the Steelers learn what the salary cap will be for the 2012 season.

Once they do, the Steelers will have the right to match any offer Wallace might receive. If they choose not to match an offer, they would receive a No. 1 draft pick from the team that signed him.

But the latter does not appear to be an option.

"We're going to do everything we can to keep Mike Wallace with the Steelers," Colbert said. "We think he's only scratched the surface in what he can do. There's a lot left there that can still be developed. We're anxious to see it happen as a Steeler."

Wallace said in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio the other day that he would consider playing for the New England Patrios and San Francisco 49ers -- playoff teams who need outside receivers. Wallace made the comment in response to a question about those teams.

Colbert did not rule out the possibility the Steelers could use the franchise tag on Wallace, Although that seems unlikely because it would mean the Steelers would have to pay Wallace approximately $9 million annually -- a big number for a team trying to get under the salary cap.

Colbert said that determination cannot be made, either, until the salary cap is determined.

"We won't rule it out until we know what we're dealing with and a hard cap number, which we haven't gotten yet," Colbert said. "We have to leave that option open, absolutely."

Meantime, Colbert said wide receiver Hines Ward remains with the team and no decision will be made on him or other players until the Steelers know the final salary-cap ceiling.

The Steelers have been working to shave approximately $25 million off their salary cap. They have already released veterans Bryant McFadden and Arnaz Battle and have restructured the contracts of five players -- Ben Roethlisberger, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Ike Taylor and Willie Colon.

"Hines Ward is still on our roster. We won't know. ... Again, once we get the salary cap figure, we'll know how much more work we have to do," Colbert said. "We've done some work in form of restructurings. We've done a few terminations. There will be more of both to come. We just don't know what combination that's going to be."

However, it doesn't appear that one of those players terminated will be nose tackle Casey Hampton, who is scheduled to count more than $8 million against the cap in 2012. Hampton, 34, will be coming off surgery to his left anterior cruciate ligament -- the second time he has had ACL surgery on his left knee -- but Colbert said he expects the five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle to be back with the team next season.

Hampton was injured in the playoff loss in Denver and had surgery Jan. 27. Colbert was asked if his return would be delayed as long as running Rashard Mendenhall, who also had ACL surgery after the season and might not be ready for the start of the regular season.

"It's a different position, obviously. You don't have to worry about speed, you don't have to worry about quick change of direction when you're talking about offensive or defensive linemen. And the one edge Casey will have on anybody is that he's been through this twice. He knows what to expect. He knows how to do this. He knows how much work he has to do and he knows how he feels."

Cobert also said the Steelers could bring both backup quarterbacks, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, each of whom are unrestricted free agents. He said Dennis Dixon, who also is unrestricted, will probably sign with another team.

"I hope so," Colbert said about the possibility of re-signing Batch and Leftwich. "I think they're comfortable being part of it and I think they're open to that. I think they want to wait and see what's out there for them. Playing behind a great quarterback like Ben, maybe you want to go somewhere else where there's an opportunity to start."

Gerry Dulac: and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published February 24, 2012 5:00 AM


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