Harris: Injury risk clouds Wallace's status

| Tuesday, June 5, 2012, 12:39 a.m.

Former Steelers tackle Marvel Smith wants a mulligan. So does New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks.

No way Smith, knowing what he does now, would play 12 games with a herniated disc as he did in 2007.

And no way Nicks, who starred in Super Bowl XLVI, believes that attending voluntary workouts is worth being sidelined a minimum of 12 weeks after he recently suffered a broken bone in his foot running a route during individual drills.

If restricted free-agent receiver Mike Wallace is paying attention, no way he shows up at the Steelers' facility until he signs his free-agent tender for 2012 or signs a new long-term contract.

What if Wallace injures himself like Nicks did during voluntary workouts? Will the Steelers still sign him to a new deal? Will they insist he rehabilitate his injury first?

I interviewed Smith for an article about NFL back injuries that appeared in Sunday's Tribune-Review. Most telling for me was how Smith, once the ultimate team player, now tells players to put their own needs ahead of the team's.

What, I asked Smith, caused him to change his mind?

“When you're playing, you don't really reflect on what you're going through,'' said Smith, a nine-year veteran who retired following the 2008 season.

“The pain I walk around with on a daily basis, the average person wouldn't deal with that at all. I don't take painkillers (anymore). I did enough of that when I was playing.''

The NFL is based on peer pressure. In the NFL, team play is valued over the individual.

Peer pressure results in players playing despite having a serious injury like a herniated disc. It encourages players to participate in voluntary workouts they're not required to attend contractually.

Peer pressure is why Wallace is the only healthy player who hasn't attended any of the Steelers' voluntary workouts.

Peer pressure led players such as Nicks and New York Jets rookie receiver Jordan White to attend their team's voluntary workouts. Like Nicks, White also suffered a broken bone in his foot during voluntary workouts.

Fortunately for Nicks, he's under contract. White, however, is a seventh-round draft pick who attended voluntary workouts without a contract. Will the Jets still sign White since he participated in voluntary workouts without a contract? Good faith, you know.

More to the point, will the Steelers hold it against Wallace if he remains a no-show for voluntary workouts, which conclude this week?

Wallace has until June 15 to sign his free-agent tender of $2.742 million. The Steelers can reduce their offer after that date.

That's a lot of money to play football, Steelers fans will tell you. Wallace should be grateful the Steelers are willing to pay him nearly $3 million to play a sport fans would play for free, the chatter goes.

Wallace must play to get paid. But he can't play without a contract.

The Steelers want Wallace to show good faith and report so the two sides can negotiate a deal.

In his first three NFL seasons, Wallace averaged more yards per catch than Jerry Rice and Randy Moss did in their first three years. He wants to be paid like one of the top receivers in football.

Players are paid for their performance. Wallace doesn't have to attend voluntary workouts to prove his worth. But if he reports without a contract, what's to prevent him from becoming another Hakeem Nicks, who took one for the team but ended up taking one in the foot?

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com

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