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Rooney: Steelers still working to sign Wallace

| Saturday, March 24, 2012

Limited room under the salary cap has kept the Steelers quiet since the start of free agency.

It apparently hasn't tempered their desire to sign Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Wallace to a long-term contract.

"The sooner the better as far as we're concerned," Steelers president Art Rooney II told the Tribune-Review on Friday, "but there's two parties to it."

The biggest question regarding Wallace's long-term future in Pittsburgh is whether the Steelers will be able to secure it before the start of the 2012 season.

Wallace is a restricted free agent, and the Steelers offered him a one-year, $2.74 million deal, the highest tender offer for a player in Wallace's situation.

Wallace hasn't received a lot of outside interest even though he is only 25 and has averaged over 1,000 receiving yards in his first three NFL seasons.

According to the Sacramento Bee, the San Francisco 49ers were interested in Wallace but they shied away because of the price tag. The Bee reported that Wallace is seeking a contract similar to the eight-year, $120 million deal that wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald signed with the Arizona Cardinals last season.

If the Steelers don't match the offer, Wallace also would cost a team that signs him its first-round draft pick.

Neither Wallace nor his agent, Bus Cook, returned messages yesterday.

Rooney declined to go into specifics regarding negotiations, but he said the two sides are talking.

"We stay in constant touch with him and his representatives," Rooney said. "We'll have to see what we agree on, so I don't want to put any particular time frame on it or restrictions on it because these things take time and I wouldn't want to box myself in on it."

Two factors that could complicate getting a deal done: Wide receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers' MVP last season, is a restricted free agent after 2012 -- and in position for a big payday -- and Wallace's value has only increased since March 13.

The wide receiver position has been highly compensated through the first wave of free agency. Among those who signed big contracts were Detroit's Calvin Johnson, Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson and Washington's Pierre Garcon.

According to ESPN, those deals were for eight years for $132 million, five years for $55.5 million and five years for $42.5 million, respectively.

Teams have until April 20 to sign Wallace.

If Wallace signs his one-year offer from the Steelers, the two sides can still negotiate a multi-year contract. The Steelers also could try to sign Wallace to a long-term deal next year, though he will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2012 season.

The Steelers have spent the offseason shedding salary. A series of a contract restructurings and terminations put the team in compliance with the $120.6 million salary cap for 2012.

But the Steelers are believed to be only $6 to $8 million under the cap, and they need money to sign their 2012 draft picks as well as free agents.

Through the years
A season-by-season look at Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace:
Year Games Rec. Yards Avg. Long TD
2011 16 72 1,193 16.6 95 8
2010 16 60 1,257 21.0 56 10
2009 16 39 756 19.4 60 6

Rooney said he expects the Steelers to make more moves so they can create salary cap flexibility.

"I think we feel like we are where we need to be at this point," Rooney said. "Probably more decisions are going to have to be made this offseason and some contract decisions are going to have to be made. There's certainly more to come in terms of putting all of the pieces together on this team."

Steelers president Art Rooney II on...

-- The Steelers releasing a handful of veterans but largely keeping the nucleus of their team together:

"We think we have a good and young core, really. Unfortunately, we had to move on with some players who have really been key players for us for a number of years now. That's never easy to do, but that time comes in every player's career and that time comes when every team has to make decisions like this."

-- Whether bounty talk will dominate the NFL owners' meetings next week:

"I'm sure people will be talking about it, but as far as the meetings themselves I don't expect it be any kind of a big piece of the agenda. We don't need that kind of thing in the game, and I think the commissioner (Roger Goodell) sent a loud and clear message. I think everybody will get the message."

-- The Steelers' proposal -- it will be voted on by owners -- that the OT format for playoff games also apply in the regular season:

"(Coach) Mike (Tomlin) was very concerned about you get into a postseason game and nobody's ever experienced this situation before and we just felt like the rules are we should have the same rules in the regular season as we have in the postseason. We felt like it's something that should have been done the first time around. Hopefully, there's enough support."

-- The Steelers' proposal that makes it illegal to horse-collar tackle a quarterback while he is in the pocket:

"We've provided a lot of protection for the quarterback, some people might say too much, but we're not sure why we should leave this open particularly when we have so many other protections for the quarterback."

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