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BTSC Meets With Football Outsiders' Brian McIntyre, Talks Salary Cap, WR Mike Wallace and Franchise Tag

BTSC caught up with Brian McIntyre - writer for Football Outsiders and the publisher of Mac's Football Blog (as well as having bylines with and the Tacoma Tribune in Washington) - who is an excellent resource for league information and the salary cap, in particular. McIntyre and BTSC writer Neal Coolong exchanged emails about transactions the Steelers have made, and possibly could make, by March 13.

McIntyre also raises a good (and troubling) point about WR Mike Wallace and his current situation. Read after the jump for the specifics, but let's just say New England's two first round picks, 27 and 31, could create a problem.

BTSC: The releases of Bryant McFadden and Arnaz Battle, along with the restructuring of contracts by LaMarr Woodley, Ike Taylor and Lawrence Timmons, you are projecting the Steelers have saved $18 million against the 2012 cap. (Edit: McIntyre would later report the possible restructuring of the contracts of QB Ben Roethlisberger and OLB James Harrison)

Woodley, Taylor and Timmons restructured their contracts by essentially spreading bonus money out over the remaining years on their current deals. The Steelers did something similar with DE Aaron Smith last year, when they added on another year to his deal, and spread out the money he's owed over two years. There's some speculation behind WR Hines Ward's statement that he's willing to restructure his deal as well.

What's your take? Is Ward saying he's willing to restructure his contract in a way similar to what Smith did, or is he willing to restructure a deal that would pay him less? With the money they've already saved, it would seem the Steelers could afford Ward at a veteran minimum rate ($925k last year).

McIntyre: Hines Ward is due $4 million in base salary and has a $4.61 million cap number in each of the next two seasons. He hasn't hidden his willingness to restructure his contract, but I'm sure the Steelers would want to a take slightly different path with his renegotiation than the ones they did with Aaron Smith in 2011 and LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons last week. In those three cases, all three players received the full amount of compensation (base salary, roster bonuses) they were scheduled to earn in exchange for lowering their base salaries and prorating it over the remaining years (or in Smith's case, adding a year).

$4 million is a lot of cash to pay a 36-year-old wide receiver who averaged 8.3 yards per reception, so he may have to lower his base salary to the veteran minimum ($925,000) and hope to make the rest up via incentives. Following the same restructure model as Smith, Timmons and Woodley -- lowering his base to the league minimum, paying the rest in a signing bonus -- even spreading that out over the maximum five seasons, would save the Steelers $2.46 million. Releasing Ward outright would clear $3.39 million.

BTSC: You reported a salary increase for RB Rashard Mendenhall. Can you provide some details on that?

McIntyre: Rashard Mendenhall's $1.4 million base salary increase for 2012 is tied to reaching certain performance incentives in his rookie contract. Up to $2.6 million in base salary escalation was available, so he got a little over halfway there. Mendenhall added $550,000 with his 1,108-yard season in 2009, another $550,000 for his 1,273-yard season in 2010, and $300,000 with his 928-yard season in 2011. Had he gained another 72 yards, he would have added $250,000 more to his 2012 base salary.

BTSC: The Steelers are used to signing veteran free agent wide receivers. Antwaan Randle El, Cedrick Wilson, Quincy Morgan, and most recently, Jerricho Cotchery, have all joined the team for at least a season around the veteran minimum. Cotchery got a one-year deal for the veteran minimum last season. With the cap room the Steelers have created, and will continue to create (possibly from the release of Ward as well as veteran LG Chris Kemoeatu), do you see them looking to ink Cotchery to a multi-year deal?

McIntyre: If the Steelers really want Jerricho Cotchery back as the No. 3/No. 4 receiver (Read McIntyre's report here) behind Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, they'll offer him a multi-year deal. From a team standpoint, a turning 30 wide receiver who produced 16 receptions for 237 yards and two touchdowns, and adds little value on special teams, would be welcomed back on a minimum salary benefit contract (825k base, 50k to sign, with a cap number of 590k). If they really value his leadership -- and with a young group of receivers, they might -- maybe you do a multi-year deal, but it won't involve a huge financial commitment. That's reserved for Mike Wallace.

BTSC: Speaking of Wallace, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said Monday they would be willing to use the franchise tag on Wallace, even though he's a restricted free agent.

While an non-exclusive franchise tag would put the compensation at two first round picks instead of the one first round pick the Steelers would get in the event Wallace is signed away, the price difference is roughly $6 million that would be applied to the salary cap in 2012. All of this assumes Wallace would play in 2012 as the franchise player.

Giving up one first-rounder, plus signing Wallace to a long-term deal seems unlikely for any team. It's next to impossible to see them giving up two first-round picks. Since the top 51 players need to be under the salary cap by March 13 (the start of the league's new year), do you feel Colbert is genuinely suggesting it as an option, or is it just a way to publicly let Wallace know they are serious about getting him paid next year?

McIntyre: On Mike Wallace, the elimination of the "First and Third Round" restricted free agent tender in the new collective bargaining agreement could make it more enticing for other teams to extend offer sheets to Pro Bowl-caliber RFAs like Wallace, who could be viewed as worthy a first round pick to a team seeking a deep threat at receiver. To avoid losing him to a deep-pocketed team with a need at receiver (Cleveland and New England have needs at receiver and have additional first-round picks this year), the Steelers may have no choice but to increase security around him by increasing the compensation for signing him to two first-round picks on the franchise tag. It's considerably more expensive, both in terms of cash and cap dollars, but it's unrealistic for the Steelers to think they're going to have Mike Wallace playing for a non-guaranteed RFA tender worth $2.7 million this season. Wallace is either going to be franchised or sign a long-term contract. It's up to Pittsburgh to decide if it's with them or a division/conference rival.