Wallace's future uncertain after Brown signs big deal

| Saturday, July 28, 2012, 7:46 p.m.

Antonio Brown took the money and ran. Mike Wallace apparently will take what's left, if there's any left at all.

Training camp wasn't even a week old before the Steelers started playing economic hardball, responding to a Wallace holdout that has clearly angered them by giving a big-money deal to Brown, Wallace's wide receiver running mate.

The Steelers' surprise move to lock up Brown through 2017 with a $42.5 million contract was a preemptive strike to make sure they don't go through a potentially distracting holdout with their other starting receiver next season.

General manager Kevin Colbert declined to discuss Wallace's absence during a Saturday news conference in which Brown related the excitement of being given such a contract after making only two touchdown catches and starting three NFL games.

Coach Mike Tomlin's update on the Wallace holdout was only one word longer: “None.”

Brown, whose emergence as a downfield threat began about the same time as Wallace's production began falling off last season, signed for the same money the Redskins gave free agent Pierre Garcon. The difference is Garcon caught 16 touchdown passes while averaging 61 catches per season the last three years with Indianapolis.

“He's a young guy, and it's only going to get better the more he plays, we anticipate,” Colbert said. “Antonio is one of our hardest workers, and he's never going to be satisfied.”

With the Steelers already projected to be $15 million over next year's salary cap, there are questions whether they could fit in another expensive wide receiver's contract even if Wallace signs his $2.742 million tender, reports to camp and attempts to reopen contract negotiations. Wallace is believed to want a deal worth at least $50 million.

Wallace still has some options; he can become a free agent even if he plays only the final six regular-season games. The Steelers have options, too; they could deal Wallace under a sign-and-trade scenario in which he signs the tender and is immediately dealt.

None of Wallace's teammates have complained yet about his absence becoming a distraction.

“The man's trying to do what's best for his family, and I'm going to try to support him,” nose tackle Casey Hampton said. “So I'm not going to say what I feel like he should do or anything like that. … But we'd love to have him in camp.”

Brown said, “When Mike gets here, we'll embrace him.”

Brown is the only receiver in NFL history with 1,000 receiving and 1,000 return yards in a season, but Tomlin doesn't seem as willing to risk using such an expensive talent as a full-time return man again this season.

“We've not closed the door on that, but we are looking at some young, promising guys,” Tomlin said.

What the Steelers still aren't looking at is Mike Wallace, and no one seems to know when he will return again, either.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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