By Ed Bouchette
Mike Wallace has an agent named Bus Cook, who has some high-profile NFL clients including Cam Newton and former great Brett Favre.
What he does not have in Mike Wallace, however, is his ear, apparently. According to sources, Wallace is driving the bus on this one. It is the wide receiver's idea to hold out of training camp and, because of it, his relationship with the Steelers has taken a new turn.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert confirmed a story in Thursday's Post-Gazette that the team has suspended negotiations with Wallace and his agent for a multiple-year contract, and that its last, best offer is now off the table.
"We've chosen to not progress with negotiations at this point," Colbert said Thursday. "Once we made that decision, now we're in a different mode. We'll have to address any new negotiations if we get to that point."
Colbert stated that Wallace will have to sign the one-year tender of $2.7 million before they will resume negotiations on a multiple-year deal.
"Him not being here, really we have to focus on what we can control because we can't control that. Again, every negotiation is unique, you put your best foot forward. If it's not suitable for both parties, you have to adjust, and we're really in adjust-move-forward-mode right now."
Colbert said club officials did not know what Wallace would do as late as Tuesday, but that his no-show when training camp at Saint Vincent College opened on Wednesday speaks volumes.
"I don't want to get into a lot of specifics of the negotiations because we don't do that as a rule, but at that point he didn't indicate to us what his next course of action was to be other than we weren't going to have an agreement."
The Steelers long have had a policy of not negotiating with veteran holdouts, provided they still had time left on their contracts. Wallace's situation is unique to them because as a restricted free agent, he does not have a contract. However, his rights are restricted to them and he has a standing one-year offer that was required under the rules for them to maintain those rights.
"This is unique because it's a restricted free agent that has a tender that can be signed, and you can still negotiate off of that," Colbert said.
Colbert said the slump Wallace experienced in the second half of last season has not affected the team's stance in negotiations. Wallace had only 393 of his 1,193 yards in the final eight games of the regular season, and then caught three passes for only 26 yards in their playoff loss at Denver. He did make his first Pro Bowl, and finished with a healthy 16.6 yards per catch and eight touchdowns. His 21.0-yard average in 2010 ranked second in the NFL after his rookie average of 19.4 yards.
"Players have up and down seasons, they have up and down periods during a season," Colbert said. "You look at the whole body of work and try to come to a conclusion what you think a player's worth and then you try to come to an agreement with him."
Colbert also denied that the Steelers do not value wide receivers highly. Hines Ward remains the only wide receiver in the free agency era to receive a big contract (or more) after his initial contract. Others, such as Plaxico Burress, Antwaan Randle El, Santonio Holmes and Yancey Thigpen either left as free agents or, in Holmes' case, was traded.
"We don't really look at it positionally except quarterbacks are always treated differently," Colbert said. "No, it's about the individual player."
The next move, Colbert said, is up to Wallace, and while they will take phone calls from his agent, they will not be making them.
"Yeah, we have to move on. We have to prepare with the 89 guys who are here. You have to, you can't focus on who isn't here because you lose track of what you're supposed to be doing.".