As the wheels of Steelers GM Kevin Colbert's Salary Cap Reducing Machine keep churning along, he expressed an interesting possibility today regarding Steelers WR Mike Wallace, who's currently a restricted free agent.
Per Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review, using the franchise tag on Wallace is still an option, despite their desire to ink him to a long-term deal.
If the Steelers were to give Wallace the franchise tag, instead of tendering him at the highest level of restricted free agency, they would essentially be buying the insurance of an additional first-round draft pick in exchange for approximately $7 million if he does not sign a long-term deal.
Players given an exclusive rights franchise tag cannot negotiate with other teams at all. Non-exclusive rights tags carry with it the ability to negotiate elsewhere, and if that results in an offer, the original team has the right to match it. If they choose not to, the second team must give the original team two first-round draft picks.
For example (and this is not a real situation), if the Steelers give Wallace a non-exclusive franchise tag, and Wallace negotiates a deal with the Minnesota Vikings, and the Steelers do not match that deal, Wallace goes to the Vikings and the Steelers get Minnesota's next two first-round draft picks.
Brian McIntyre of Football Outsiders broke down a range of projections for franchise tags in the upcoming season. The old formula for determining the tag's value was the average cap number of the current top five paid players at each position. Under the new CBA, it's the average of the top cap number of that position over the last five years.
The difference won't be much in 2012, and McIntyre puts the wide receiver tag between $9.443 million and $9.806 million, depending on the final amount of the 2012 salary cap.
Wallace's high tender RFA amount would be around $2.6 million, according to McIntyre.
What Colbert is implying, per Brown, is that they'd use this year's franchise tag on Wallace and pay anywhere from $6.8 million to $7.2 million more guaranteed over the restricted free agency tender to ensure hefty compensation in the event a team tries to sign Wallace away. All of this would be moot though if the sides come together on a long-term deal.
Colbert could be saying it in a way of expressing the franchise's desire to do everything necessary to continue negotiations for that deal. However, it seems unlikely that any team would be willing to give up two first-round picks for a receiver who would have to battle hard to prove he's the best receiver on his own team (or at least battle harder than he does for balls in the air). As such, it seems all the more puzzling that the front office might give Wallace $9.4 to $9.8 million guaranteed - with 100 percent of that counting against the cap - given the Steelers current salary cap situation.
If that's the measure of Colbert's resolve to get a deal done, it's good to hear. Wallace is one of the most dangerous receivers in the game, even if he isn't one of the most complete players at his position.
However, if Colbert is being serious and does intend to use the franchise tag on a restricted free agent for the first time in team history, he's either just giving Brown lip service while working toward that long-term deal, or he needs a vacation and some time to think things through.