Wide receiver Wallace within Steelers' reach
INDIANAPOLIS — The Steelers cleared about $8 million in salary cap money Thursday by restructuring quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's contract, a move that may ultimately allow the Steelers to lock up receiver Mike Wallace to a long-term contract.
The Steelers have shaved close to $30 million off their 2012 salary cap and should be in compliance when the cap number is released early next month.
Wallace is the Steelers' most coveted free agent, and the team's salary cap situation had fueled speculation that it wouldn't be able to use a franchise tag on the Pro Bowler.
General manager Kevin Colbert said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Steelers were likely to make the highest tender offer to Wallace, a restricted free agent. The one-year deal is worth a projected $2.7 million. The Steelers would receive a first-round draft pick if Wallace signs with another team when free agency begins March 13 and they decline to match that offer.
But that was before the Steelers reworked the six-year, $102 million contract Roethlisberger signed in 2008.
Roethlisberger is the fifth Steelers player this month to restructure his deal. The move could bring the franchise tag into play with Wallace.
The tag comes with a one-year deal that would be worth just under $9.5 million and is guaranteed as soon as Wallace signs it. If the Steelers guarantee themselves exclusive negotiating rights with Wallace by tagging him, they would do so with the idea of later signing him to a multiyear contract.
Colbert said he is confident Wallace, a third-year veteran, isn't going anywhere.
"We want Mike to finish his career with the Steelers," Colbert said. "I'm very confident Mike wants to finish his career with the Steelers and play with a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger and the other receivers we have. Usually when you have two parties that share the same goal, it's easier to achieve that goal."
Wallace said Wednesday during an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio that he wants to stay with the Steelers but that he is also keeping an open mind.
San Francisco and New England are among teams that need help at receiver and could target Wallace.
Not that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh ventured near that topic yesterday. Asked if he preferred adding a receiver through free agency or the draft, Harbaugh said, "This is just a period of speculation and making hypotheticals. It doesn't benefit us to get into that arena."
Colbert left no doubt the Steelers have identified Wallace, 25, as a core player, even though he endured a second-half slump in 2011. Despite that, Wallace went over 1,000 yards receiving for the second consecutive year and made the Pro Bowl as a starter.
"We think he's only scratched the surface in what he can do," Colbert said. "There's a lot left there that can still be developed. We're anxious to see it happen as a Steeler."