Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert flanked Antonio Brown at a news conference Saturday, where they all talked about a new contract between the Steelers and their most valuable player from 2011.
What they would not talk about was Mike Wallace or how Brown's contract might affect their dealings with their leading receiver, a Pro Bowler who finds himself even more in limbo after Brown's new six-year, $42.5 million contract.
The deal for Brown practically assured that Wallace will not show up for training camp over the three weeks the Steelers spend at Saint Vincent College near Latrobe, unless he has one big change of heart. If he was unwilling to accept their offer and to hold out before they took some of that money and invested it in Brown, why would he now be willing to take less on a long-term deal?
His only recourse to rejoin the team, as Colbert indicated even before Brown's deal was finished, is to sign his one-year, $2.7 million contract offer, report to camp and go from there. Brown's deal makes it highly unlikely that Wallace will get anywhere near what he wants in a multiple-year deal from the Steelers.
So, his only real alternative is to play out the season, earn $2.7 million doing so and try to polish his resume for unrestricted free agency in March. Holding out into the season will not enhance his value nor his bank account.
There is one more avenue he and the Steelers could take. They could allow teams to talk to Wallace and his agent in order to see if they can work out terms of a contract. If so, that team could then try to work a trade with the Steelers. And if they could agree on that, Wallace could sign the one-year tender and then be traded.
Those are several possibilities for the outcome of the stalemate with Wallace, the least likely being they will sign him to a multiple-year deal.
Like Wallace, Brown made his first Pro Bowl last season, his second in the league, but he made it as a return man, not a receiver. His teammates, however, spoke loudly when they voted him their MVP last season, and over the second half of the season, he was their best receiver.
Wallace had 800 yards receiving after eight games. He managed less than half that, 393, over the final eight and caught three passes for 26 yards in a playoff loss at Denver.
Brown had 846 of his 1,108 yards over the final 10 games, added another 75 yards on five receptions in Denver.
Brown started three games last season. What might he do with 16 starts in 2012?
"We are going to see," Brown said. "I have three under my belt, and I'm looking forward to having this year to start fully. ... You always want to get better from last year. You don't want to place a limit on anything, but you always want to do more year in and year out. You expect it and you want to rise to the occasion."
In the offseason, Colbert and Steelers president Art Rooney II identified Wallace as a top priority to get a multiple-year contract done. They did not mention Brown. In fact, when Colbert was asked in March how Brown's looming status as a restricted free agent in 2013 might affect what they do with Wallace, he said, "You're looking way into the future there. That's way too far down the road. We're dealing with 2012 at this moment."
So it's reasonable to assume that the frustrating deadlock with Wallace sent the Steelers in a new direction, and that was to try to lock up Brown long term. They did not have a large body of work to go on because Brown played in only nine games as a rookie in 2010 and caught 16 passes for an average of just 10.4 yards.
Said Colbert, "Even in Antonio's rookie year, when you watched him practice, and the way he practiced, and how hard he practiced, and how many plays he made in practice, you could see that he was going to have a great second year, which he did. You look at that and you only hope that just continues as we think it will."
Casey Hampton does not find himself in unfamiliar territory by being on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list as training camp begins. That is where he began camp in '08, only under different circumstances.
Then, Tomlin placed him on PUP list because he felt Hampton was out of shape. Today, Hampton is working to return from January ACL surgery.
"My goal is to be ready for the first game," Hampton said. "I just want to get right and be right when I'm out there. I don't want to be out there hobbling."
Chris Hoke, his longtime backup, retired, and the Steelers cut veterans James Farrior and Aaron Smith. Nevertheless, if Hampton starts the opener, he will be among seven starters in their 30s. Plus, Hampton and James Harrison are both on the PUP list. Troy Polamalu said he has experienced more concussions than he can count.
Could this be a transition season for a defense that might be on the decline?
"They've been saying that for how long," Hampton said. "They've been saying that, you're getting old and slow and all that for years. And year in and year out, we do our thing. So I don't see it any different this year. Our main thing is just staying healthy. We always have depth because we're building our team. Your young guys haven't played a lot, but they've been in system two, three years, so they know what to do.
"We have a nucleus of young guys who are really, really good. You guys and everybody doesn't know that yet because they haven't played, but we see it and know what they can do when they get out there."
The first 11-on-11 or "team" drill in pads looked almost like a live scrimmage -- and perhaps this was new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's doing -- it contained nearly all running plays.
"I liked our energy and enthusiasm," is how Tomlin put it.
That drill also produced the first scuffle of camp, a good one when offensive lineman Willie Colon put a good lick on linebacker Lawrence Timmons and kept driving and put him on the ground, where several players from both sides piled on and wrestled for a few seconds.
"You got Willie Colon in the drill," Tomlin explained.
Tomlin downplayed the fact that rookie David DeCastro took some turns with the first team at right guard.
"I told you we were going to mix and match," Tomlin said.
And add one more player to the injury list. Rookie linebacker Sean Spence was limited in practice because he fell on his shoulder Friday. Tomlin said it was merely a precaution.
First Published July 29, 2012 4:00 AM