With the franchise tag number teetering around $10 million for the wide receiver position in 2013, and a precarious cap situation for the Steelers, and their two free agent wide receivers (Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace), it seems unlikely either receiver will be tagged.
But a player doesn't have to play the season under the tag, and I don't just mean to suggest either of them holding out.
The Patriots traded Miami a second and a seventh round pick before the 2007 NFL Draft for the rights to restricted free agent wide receiver Wes Welker.
New England added a seventh round pick to Miami's haul for agreeing to avoid the red tape of signing Welker to an offer sheet, then waiting seven days for Miami to not match the deal.
The franchise tag could work the exact same way. If the Steelers applied it to, say, Wallace, and a team in the market for a receiver didn't feel signing him to, for example, a contract similar to Vincent Jackson's five-year, $55 million deal ($26 million guaranteed) along with giving up a first round and a third round pick in 2013, the Steelers could simply trade him to that team for, say, a second round pick in 2013 and 2014.
If they chose not to tag him, and let him leave via free agency, his departure would most likely return a third round compensatory pick in 2014, provided Wallace hit certain statistical criteria (that are mostly hidden by the league).
They traded Santonio Holmes in 2010 even though letting him walk in 2011 could have brought as high as a third round pick. To them, a fifth round pick from the Jets that year (and the removal of Holmes from the team) was more valuable than a third round pick a season later.
All they would need is a trading partner.
Looking around the league, what team is projected to have boatloads of salary cap space, a need of a playmaking wide receiver, perhaps to compliment a young quarterback and an offensive mindset of getting the ball down the field?
Why, the Indianapolis Colts, and Wallace's former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, of course.
One minor snag would be the fact the Colts already traded their 2013 second round pick to Miami for Vontae Davis, but it seems likely they could work something out.
Giving up a pick or two would help the Colts control Wallace's salary demands, instead of trying to get him on the open market, where Wallace could experience a similar phenomena as Pierre Garcon, who saw his market value nearly double simply because of competition for his services.
The Colts could afford it, it doesn't appear the Steelers will really have the cap room for Wallace anyway, and having Wallace return to the offensive coordinator who gave him a career average of over 18 yards a catch (Wallace is averaging 12.8 yards a catch this season) could end up being a good situation for everyone involved.