According to Breer, the league's newest highest paid player will receive a signing bonus of $37 million in 2012, along with a $3 million base salary. He's due $11 million guaranteed in 2013 and $10 million in 2014, and after deferred signing bonus money is spread out, he'll have cap charges of $10.4 million (2012), $17.4 million (2013) and $18.4 million (2014).
After that is where it gets interesting, and also marks the definitive point between the reality of the $100 million deal Brees allegedly signed.
The prorated portion of Brees' $37 million signing bonus paid in 2012 is spread out over the life of the contract. In future years, that's what's known as "dead money." Whether Brees is on the roster or not, that money counts against the cap.
According to Breer, that's a $7.4 million hit from 2012-2016 from the signing bonus alone. Adding in base salaries for those years, which are not guaranteed, Brees' cap number is $10.4 million in 2012 (far lower than the cap hit he would have caused if he played this season under his franchise tag). It increases to $17.4 million in 2013, $18.4 million in 2014, $26.4 million in 2015 and $27.4 million in 2016.
With new TV deals scheduled to provide a massive boost to the league's revenue, and per the collective bargaining agreement, the salary cap is based off that figure, it appears the Saints have their franchise quarterback at a proportionally-satisfying cap number for the next five years. While they have to cut a $37 million check for the 2012 season, they've spread the money out long enough where the impact won't be as critical down the line.
That is, of course, assuming he's not released. If he is, the entire balance of the signing bonus hits the cap the following year.
This was the situation with former Colts QB Peyton Manning, who had a similar kind of situation in 2012. Coming off a serious neck injury at 35 years of age, the Colts were forced to either keep him as a significant injury risk (and create a problem of two franchise quarterbacks vying for one spot) or take a massive cap hit and release him. They chose the latter option, and are assuming the massive cap hit for the sake of refreshing their roster.
In Wallace's situation, he's aware of the fact he's a prime candidate for the franchise tag in 2013. Estimates at this point put that number around $10.5 million. Adding in the (roughly) $2.7 million he'd receive from his restricted free agency tender given for this season, he's liable to get $13.2 million over the next two seasons.
The Steelers aren't able to give Wallace a massive payment in 2012 as the Saints did with Brees. Early indications are they aren't likely to be able to do it in 2013, either.
Steelers Depot does a nice job of providing some estimates about the general vicinity of the Steelers' 2013 cap position (barring myriad unforeseen circumstances). With exact figures not being known, a fair general estimate is the Steelers will have to do a few more roster gymnastics to get under the salary cap in 2013, meaning, it's fair to estimate the Steelers will not have the room to give Wallace a big pay day - franchise tag or signing bonus - in 2013. With the TV contracts increasing quite a bit in 2014, the salary cap will increase, but as far as 2012 goes, if Wallace would be interested in a long-term deal, it stands to reason he would want a huge payday in either one of the next two seasons. He's been playing at a level at least worthy of a first round pick, and he's been paid a third round pick's contract. The RFA tag and the (assumed) franchise tag pay him $13.2 million the next two years. Logic would dictate $13.2 million in the next two seasons would be the absolute bare minimum he'd ask for, and likely, it'd be far more. Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson is getting $26 million over his first two seasons, and the argument can easily be made Wallace is worth more than Jackson is on the open market.
So it's not as if the Steelers couldn't work something out, it's more that Wallace would have to play two more seasons before getting that huge payday from Pittsburgh. And what about the risk the Steelers would be taking? Guaranteeing money for a wide receiver that far into the future isn't necessarily the wisest course of action.
Just ask Seattle, who released WR Mike Williams the other day, just one season into a three-year deal worth $11 million.
If untagged, he'd leave for that windfall in 2013, reasonably estimated at somewhere north of $26 million guaranteed in the first few years of a long-term deal.
Wallace wasn't voted team MVP in 2011, either. Brown, a restricted free agent in 2013, is in a similar position. He's producing outstanding numbers as a sixth-round pick, and could very well want a large payment in the next two years as well. While Brown could help his cause by getting into the end zone a bit more this season, if he replicates his receiving numbers from 2011, there's no reason to think he wouldn't be a prime target on the restricted free agent market himself.
Faith rests in Steelers' capologist Omar Khan, but he's got his work cut out for him, that's for sure.