On the Steelers: The Mike Wallace Gambit

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Both Art Rooney and Kevin Colbert have said publicly that Mike Wallace will be a priority.

"We're going to do everything we can to make sure Mike Wallace remains a Pittsburgh Steeler," Colbert said.

Notice, he did not say for how long, because if they are able to keep him longer than 2012 by signing him to a multiple-year contract, Wallace will enter rare company -- a wide receiver the Steelers were able to keep during the nearly 20-year free agency era by signing them to big contracts.

Among wide receivers who left in free agency were Yancey Thigpen, Plaxico Burress, Antwaan Randle El, Nate Washington, Bobby Shaw, Charles Johnson, Andre Hastings and more.

They also traded Santonio Holmes, Jeff Graham and Troy Edwards.

Here is the list of top wide receivers the Steelers were able to keep by signing them over the long term:

Hines Ward.

That's it.

The Steelers have a history of shrugging their shoulders when it comes to giving wide receivers long-term contracts since free agency began. They either did not want to keep them, did not want to pay them what others were willing to do, or they shipped them out and got meager returns before they could become free agents.

Ward is the only one they kept, and it seemed as though every time he signed a new contract, he said it guaranteed he would finish his career in Pittsburgh. Remember that the next time a player signs a new contract and is moved to declare the same.

Now it's Wallace's turn. He is a restricted free agent who must receive his one-year tender by 4 p.m. Tuesday. There are others too, but Wallace likely will be the only RFA to receive the $2,742,000 tender that would bring a first-round draft pick as compensation if he signs another deal and the Steelers decline to match it and keep him.

In fact, they have more decisions to make on their RFAs than they do their unrestricted free agents. The Steelers have four choices on RFA tenders, all carrying the right for them to match and the compensation they would receive for each if they do not:

• $2,742,000, first-round.

• $1,927,000, second-round.

• $1.26 million, original round in which player was drafted.

• Do not tender.

Let's look at some projections about what the Steelers might do:

Mike Wallace: First-round tender, which could set up three separate dramas, one of which may not end until around this time next year. The first is whether another team will offer him a contract and whether Wallace will sign it. If he does, it sets up the second, whether the Steelers will match it (if they CAN match it) or take the first-round pick. The third would occur if Wallace does not sign elsewhere, whether he and the Steelers can come to an agreement on a multiple-year contract or whether he plays the 2012 season for $2,742,000 and becomes a UFA next year.

Ramon Foster: Second-round tender. Usually, a starting guard would be worth a one-year $2,742,000, but the Steelers are watching their cap dollars and an $800,000 savings is worth it in this case. He was not drafted, so the lower tender would bring no draft choice.

Doug Legursky: Second-round tender. Same reasons as Foster.

Keenan Lewis: Original round. Lewis would bring a third-round draft pick. If William Gay leaves, he would compete to start with Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown. It's somewhat of a gamble and it's possible the Steelers will drop the second-rounder on him, too.

Ryan Mundy: Original round. Mundy would bring a sixth-round draft pick. As a backup, they cannot afford to pay him nearly $2 million.

David Johnson: Original round. Johnson would bring a seventh-round draft pick and it gets dicey here because they are so thin at tight end. Weslye Saunders, a rookie last season, is suspended for the first four games of the season. However, Johnson was used mostly as a fullback and they do have tight end Jame McCoy, whom they believe could handle that job.

Jamon Meredith: No tender, making him a UFA. They also are thin at tackle, but they also could re-sign him because he's not expected to attract much interest elsewhere.

A class ending to a classy career

It's rare when a player digs into his own pocket to purchase a newspaper ad to thank fans after his career comes to a close in a city. Newspaper ads are not cheap.

Alan Faneca did so when he bought an ad in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2008 after his career with the Steelers ended.

Now it's Aaron Smith's turn.

In today's PG (Page D-7), you will find an ad that Smith bought so he could express how he felt as his Steelers career, and likely his NFL career, comes to an end.

He writes:

• • • •

Dear Steelers Fans,

As of today, I am no longer a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I leave the field and Steelers with no regrets, and am grateful to have played for such a tremendous organization. I feel truly blessed to have spent my entire professional career in the best town, playing for the most loyal fans who have loved and supported myself and my family.

The last 13 years of our lives have been special because of the people who cheered me on, and I am truly fortunate to have been a part of the Steelers, the City of Pittsburgh and the Steelers Nation. You have opened your arms and your hearts to us as a family and we will never forget that. Your support, enthusiasm, love and dedication are gifts I will carry with me my entire life.

I may no longer be on the Steelers active roster, but I will always be a Steeler and will never forget the people who made it all worthwhile -- the fans, the Rooneys, the front office, the equipment guys and trainers, my teammates and family. Thank you for supporting me over the last 13 years, and I hope you will support me in whatever future path life will take me on.

We plan on making Pittsburgh our home and I will endeavor for the rest of my days to find a way to thank each and every one of you personally for all that you have done and meant for me and my family. You cheered for me for 13 years and now I cheer for you for the rest of my life. You will always be in my heart, thoughts and prayers. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to have the job of a lifetime. You will always be in my heart.

Your friend always,

Aaron Smith and Family, No. 91


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