The Steelers pulled no surprises when they declined to use the franchise tag on wide receiver Mike Wallace, which may prompt them to make a "tough decision" if someone signs him as a restricted free agent.
Team officials long ago determined they would not have enough salary-cap room to use the franchise tag on Wallace, who would have required approximately $9.4 million in a one-year tender.
The franchise tag virtually assures no other team will sign a player because it requires two first-round draft choices in return. The deadline for using it on a player passed at 4 p.m. Monday.
Instead, the Steelers will tender Wallace as a restricted free agent, a one-year tender of $2,742,000 that will maintain their rights to match any contract he might sign after the free-agency signing period begins March 13. If he signs elsewhere and they decline to match, the Steelers would receive a first-round draft pick from the signing team in return.
"We don't have the cap room of having the luxury of using the franchise tag this season," general manager Kevin Colbert said Monday on Steelers.com, where he and coach Mike Tomlin were interviewed by host Bob Labriola.
As for the possibility that another team would sign Wallace, Colbert said: "We understand there could be offers coming in. Mike is a significant player. But ultimately it's our decision whether or not we're going to match an offer. So we still have control over the situation. Even though he could get offers from the outside, ultimately we'll make the decision whether Mike's going to be a Steeler or not."
Colbert reiterated his previous stance that "we want Mike to finish his career here" but added the provision that "we may have to make a tough decision, but again, it will be our call."
The Steelers are at least $10 million under the approximate $120 million cap projected for each NFL team starting March 13, where a little more than a month ago they were more than $25 million over that cap.
They restructured a handful of veterans' contracts and released others, most notably last week three of their best players this century -- Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and James Farrior.
Colbert said there would be no more contract terminations for now and that "we feel good where we are from a cap standpoint."
As for cutting such popular players, Colbert added: "It's hard to remove the emotion but you have to. What we try to remember is these players will always be Steelers. ... It's still hard to tell a great player we don't have a spot for you moving forward."
Tomlin, taking questions publicly for the first time since his season-ending news conference Jan. 9, the day after his team was upset in the playoffs in Denver, called releasing Ward, Smith and Farrior "just the realities of the business."
"I think the way a guy like Jerome Bettis retired is a fairy tale. It doesn't happen."
Tomlin said he is confident he has replacements for those who were released, especially since "all of those guys missed some time in some form or fashion."
"It's not unknowns in terms of who is going to be playing or potentially be playing football at those spots," Tomlin said.
As has been their routine every other year, the Steelers will raise ticket prices in 2012.
"Our prices in past seasons were at or below the NFL average and we needed to make an increase in our pricing in order to remain competitive," said a statement released by Burt Lauten, the team's communications coordinator. "Even with the price increase, our tickets still represent one of the best entertainment values in all of team sports. We traditionally have increased our ticket prices every two seasons and our last price increase was before the 2010 season."
Although the Steelers did not release price information, those with seats that cost $82 say their ticket prices have risen to $88, or a 7.3 percent increase.