Wallace to join Dolphins; Steelers restructure Woodley, sign Foote, Burress
Mike Wallace is going deep again — deep into the pockets of the Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins made the first and likely most costly splash of NFL free agency minutes after the signing period began Tuesday by agreeing to a reported $65 million, five-year contract that guarantees the former Steelers wide receiver $30 million. Wallace becomes the third highest-paid receiver behind Calvin Johnson of Detroit and Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona and will make about six times more per season than the $2.7 million he made last season in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers, as usual, didn't shop the stars-loaded retail store as the offseason shopping period began but instead looked for bargains. They are believed to be looking at running backs, including possibly former Ohio State star Beanie Wells, who was cut by the Cardinals. And former Seton-La Salle quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is expected to visit Wednesday as they seek a backup for Ben Roethlisberger.
They retained inside linebacker Larry Foote by giving him a three-year contract and, in somewhat of a surprise move, signed wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who is expected to play for the veteran's minimum of $940,000. Burress caught three passes in three games after rejoining the Steelers late last season but, although he turns 36 next season, gives the team depth at a position where they have only Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.
“I'm baaaaaack,” Burress posted on Twitter.
This might be the deepest route Wallace has run in the NFL, from Pittsburgh to Miami. The Dolphins covet his speed and deep-threat ability; he has 40 catches of 40 yards or more since 2009. Sanders, who is expected to replace Wallace as a starter next season, has zero such catches.
Wallace's deal — worth about $5 million more per season than the Steelers are believed to have offered him last summer — justifies his decision to play out the final year of his first contract. His much-anticipated departure — the Steelers didn't attempt to work out a contract with him after the season ended and will receive a third-round compensatory pick in 2014 — was expected to be the first of several high-profile defections, with running back Rashard Mendenhall and cornerback Keenan Lewis likely to follow.
Mendenhall reportedly was talking with the Cardinals and Broncos. Lewis, who became a starter only last season, also was looking to land with a new team.
Foote's return assures the Steelers of maintaining a veteran's presence at an important position in what was the NFL's No. 1 defense statistically. Foote also was talking to the Cardinals, but he regretted leaving the Steelers once for hometown Detroit — he stayed only one season — and did not want to leave again. And the Steelers are thin inside because third-round draft pick Sean Spence's 2013 season — and his career — is in doubt because of a 2012 preseason knee injury.
General manager Kevin Colbert recently said the Steelers weren't sure when or if Spence could play.
“He is a general out there; he knows football,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said on his TribLive Radio show of Foote, who calls the defensive signals.
The Steelers' biggest move, at least financially, was restructuring outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley's contract to trim his base salary from $9 million to $3.6 million in 2013 and free up $4 million of cap space. The other $5.4 million due Woodley in 2013 will be converted into a signing bonus that will count against the salary cap over four seasons.
The restructured deal means Woodley's salary cap charge — unless his deal is redone again — will jump to $13.595 million in 2014, second on the team only to Roethlisberger's $17.895 million.
By reworking the contracts of Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Roethlisberger and Brown and releasing outside linebacker James Harrison — and with the anticipated release of guard Willie Colon — the Steelers freed up about $23 million of cap room. The money was needed in part to create cap room to bring back restricted free agents Sanders, Jonathan Dwyer, Steve McLendon and Isaac Redman, even though Dwyer was the only one of the four to immediately accept his $1.3 low tender.
Guard Ramon Foster also will return after agreeing Monday to a $6 million, three-year deal that includes a $900,000 signing bonus. Defensive back DeMarcus Van Dyke, benched last season following a series of penalties on special teams, announced on Twitter he was returning.
Tight end David Johnson, who missed last season after sustaining a knee injury in last year's preseason opener, agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Steelers.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter arobinson_Trib.