Last week, it was reported that Mike Wallace, a restricted free agent, had decided that he wasn't going to sign the Steelers $2.7 million one year tender. This indicated that Wallace's intention was to draw a line in the sand and enter into a battle of wills with the Pittsburgh Steelers. You knew that already, of course. Neal Coolong summarized that quite succinctly last week when the news first broke.
That's old news.
What's even older news is that it's almost impossible to win a staring contest with the Pittsburgh Steelers. If Wallace doesn't know this, his agent should, and they should probably try to come up with a better plan if they're going to get what they want.
More highly decorated Steelers than Mike Wallace have tried this tactic in the past, and they have failed.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the most disciplined approaches to running a business in all of professional sports. If they establish a way of doing things, a policy, they very rarely go off course.
For example, the Steeler hardly ever make big splashes in free agency. This often frustrates fans who want them to go hard after the top names each and every offseason. But the Steelers would rather build through the draft, develop their own stars, and sign them to huge deals when the time is right. The team just ignores the protests from the outside, continues to do their thing every year, and it has worked to the tune of being the most successful franchise in the NFL over the past 40 seasons.
The Steelers have also set a precedent of not re-negotiating contracts during the regular season.
In 1988, Pro Bowl linebacker Mike Merriweather held out the entire season despite still being under contract. The Steelers never gave in to this negotiation tactic, and they simply traded him away for a first round pick in 1989.
Want a more recent example? In 2005, Hines Ward, one of the greatest Steelers of all-time, held out the first couple of weeks of training camp because he wanted a new deal even though he still had another year remaining on his then current contract.
Did Hines think it was going to work? I don't know. But it wasn't long before then coach Bill Cowher persuaded Ward to come to camp, and it wasn't long before the team took care of him with a new contract. Yes, Ward eventually got his deal, but that's because he came to his senses and, unlike Merriweather, decided to negotiate in good faith. Had Ward continued to hold out, he probably wouldn't have gotten anywhere.
That's two examples nearly two-decades apart of how the Steelers handle strong-arm negotiation tactics. They simply don't back down.
Wallace should take notes.
There has been speculation floating around over the past few weeks that Wallace wants Larry Fitzgerald money. I don't know if that's true or not, but I do know that he's not going to get that kind of money from the Steelers, not with their salary cap situation being what it is. The team had to cut ties with a few veterans and ask a few others to re-structure their contracts just so they could barely get under the cap.
Very few restricted free agents sign offer sheets, but Wallace is an attractive enough receiver--the best deep threat in the game-- that you would think someone would have taken at least a slight interest in him and tried to sign him to an offer sheet. The fact that Wallace has had very little interest from other teams at this late point is a pretty fair indication that maybe he is over-valuing his worth just a little bit.
I don't think Wallace has much leverage at this point. His only real recourse is to sign the tender sheet and play out his last year with the Steelers and see what happens.
Do I think Wallace is worth Fitzgerald money? Personally, no, not yet. But that's just my opinion, and things would change pretty fast if Wallace goes out and sets the league on fire this season.
If he establishes himself to be the equal to Fitzgerald and receivers like him, Wallace will have the leverage as he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2013..
And, who knows? The Steelers might actually be willing to find a way to give him a fair market deal.
As I said, the Steelers may hold their ground when re-negotiating, but they do want to keep their own stars whenever they can.
As a restricted free agent, Mike Wallace is under no obligation to sign anything or do anything. But he owes it to himself to at least sign the tender sheet if he and the Steelers can't come to an agreement before training camp.
If he wants his big contract, he has a 16-week job interview coming up to show the Steelers and the rest of the NFL what he's truly worth.
That's his best option. Hopefully, he'll come around, because the Steelers aren't going to change their approach to business.
They always win their staring contests.
My guess is that Mike Wallace will be the one who blinks first.