Steelers looking to lock up 'Young Money Crew' of receivers
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — They are founding fathers of the "Young Money Crew," each with a nickname that matches a physical characteristic or personality trait.
They also are part of the "Bugatti Boyz," a subset in the Steelers locker room that has adopted the name of a popular rap pack.
Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders are 25 years old. Antonio Brown turns 24 in July and is still too young to rent a car without restrictions. They have the kind of fun associated with 20-somethings, but that is not the only reason Steelers coach Mike Tomlin simply chuckles at such diversions.
"When you get below the surface, that's a group of guys who work hard, are legitimately humble and motivate one another, and they have the desire to be the best in the business," Tomlin said. "That's what's exciting about our young group of wide receivers."
There may not be a better trio of young wideouts in the NFL, though the Steelers hope they can keep them together in 2012 — and beyond.
Wallace is a restricted free agent, and another team has until April 20 to sign him. The Steelers have the right to match any offer, which is why they ultimately control where Wallace plays next season.
The Steelers have said they want to secure Wallace's long-term future.
Wallace's production dropped in the second half of 2011 — he had just 389 receiving yards in the final eight games — but the Steelers still see him as a cornerstone player.
"In many instances, teams took him out of the game," Tomlin said of Wallace, whose four 100-yard receiving games in 2011 came in the first seven weeks. "When you reel off the kind of seven- to eight-game run that he had there to start the season, that's some scary video for defensive coaches in preparations for games. They responded accordingly. But if you have a good football team, it's going to potentially create opportunities for other ready young men."
The Wallace factor did just that for Brown.
He and Wallace went over 100 yards receiving in a 32-20 win at Arizona on Oct. 23. That started an ascent so pronounced that Brown's teammates voted him team MVP after he had opened the season as the No. 4 receiver.
"We knew about him from evaluations and thought he was a good player and, of course, it doesn't take very long when you turn on the tape and see what he does to get open," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said of Brown. "They did a nice job with those receivers. Wallace, Emmanuel and Antonio are good players."
There are several catches for the Steelers at receiver.
Sanders has had trouble staying healthy, and the Steelers are top heavy at the position.
They don't have proven depth behind their top three wideouts if Jerricho Cotchery, an unrestricted free agent, signs elsewhere and they don't bring in a free agent.
There also is the question about whether the Steelers will be willing or even able to give big money to Wallace and Brown over the next couple of years.
Brown is a restricted free agent after this season.
"You are looking way into the future there," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "I don't know what we will be able to do this week or next. We look at our situation as it stands today."