Disclaimer first. I'm good for those. I don't want to lose Mike Wallace. I hope the Steelers find a way to keep him, either by winning the gamble that no one will want to lose a first-rounder and pay the steep price of a free agent, or by somehow coming to terms with a long-term contract. That said, it's interesting how different a fan's perspective can be than a team administrator such as Omar Kahn. The following position paper is not sour grapes if we lose Wallace. I'm just trying to get a grip in my own mind of how the Steelers brain trust might be thinking.
For sake of argument, let's say that the Pittsburgh Steelers get Michael Floyd, wide receiver from Notre Dame, with the first-round pick that they receive for losing Wallace. Ask Steeler Nation, at face value, who they would like to have on their team: Mike Wallace or Michael Floyd? You will get an overwhelming response toward Mike Wallace, right? He's already proven, he has world-class speed, and he's still young at 26 years of age. Who in their right mind would rather have Michael Floyd, right here and now, over Mike Wallace? No one. Let's look deeper.
Suppose you are at a picnic and you ask two buddies who their best player was that they picked up in their fantasy baseball league. One guy says Matt Kemp and the other guy says Jacoby Ellsbury. Your first inclination is to think that the guy who picked up Kemp got the better end of things. Upon further inquiry, you learn that the fantasy league was an auction league, not a straight draft league, and that the guy who got Kemp paid $34 (out of $200 allowed), while the guy who got Ellsbury paid $7. Now who got the better end of the deal? The guy with Kemp has $166 left to buy players and the guy with Ellsbury has $193 left. The difference in cost between Kemp and Ellsbury far out-proportions the difference in talent and production. The guy with Ellsbury can do far more with the rest of his team than the guy with Kemp.
The NFL is an auction league, not a straight draft league. It might be hard for some fans to get a grip on this, because they are not playing the salary game, but I guarantee you that Omar Kahn and the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking at things far differently than the average fan. Yes, Wallace is young, but Floyd is even younger (23). Yes, Wallace is more proven right now, but Floyd had good size, great hands, runs routes well and is an excellent all-around receiver. I really don't want to micro-manage the pros and cons of Michael Floyd and Mike Wallace. More importantly, Floyd will cost the Steelers a rookie contract, around $1 million a year, and they will have this player and contract for the next three years, at which time Floyd will be in the same position Wallace is in right now.
Think of it in terms of resource management. The Steelers paid third-round money for Wallace-type production for three years, and then cashed it in for a first rounder three years younger, a player bound by the CBA to probably not get paid nearly what he is worth during his rookie contract. Take the whole six-year Wallace-Floyd productivity and look at what that will cost you. If you could flip that in real estate you'd be a millionaire.
Compare Floyd's salary over the next three years against Wallace's salary, wherever he goes. It might be a 12-1 ratio, even more. Do you really think that Wallace will out-perform Floyd by 12-1? The value of a draft pick isn't just the player, it is also the manageable contract that comes with him. Not long ago a high draft pick was more of a curse than an asset. The cost of signing high draft picks was astronomical. That changed with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. It is now much more manageable for "bad" teams to "live with" high draft picks. The lower first-round picks were always cost-effective. Bill Belichick has made a Hall of Fame living by paying modest salaries to all of his draft choices. It is the reason he always has money in his pocket to buy free agents at reasonable prices.
The Steelers, like the guy who picked up Ellsbury, get the extra money to do other things. They can sign Jerricho Cotchery to a modest Belichikian contract and make him more a player in the offense. It seemed like there weren't enough footballs to go around as it was. Fans were screaming for more running plays, more passes to running backs, more Heath, more Young Money. Cotchery was a quality receiver who got lost in the numbers game. There are only so many offensive plays in a game. Is the quartet of Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Heath Miller not Super Bowl Caliber?
Moreover, a Cotchery signing would free up a first-round draft choice to acquire other needs. They don't have to draft Michael Floyd. This just isn't a Floyd plus salary vs. Wallace plus salary comparison. It is anybody + Salary vs. Wallace + salary. The Steelers can go in any direction they like with the pick they get for Wallace. It's pretty sweet to think about adding a first-round lineman or middle linebacker or defensive back in addition to the first-round pick the Steelers already own.
Again, I hope Wallace stays for the $2.7 million RFA tag or signs a long-term deal. I hope no one bites. The Ravens' Ozzie Newsome has already cautioned that signing Wallace is a double hit - The money spent for an expensive free agent plus the loss of a first-round pick. But if someone does snatch him up, it's not the end of Steel City football. The NFL is all about resource management, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have a pretty good feel for working well within that system.