When Mike Wallace did not report with the rest of his teammates on the first day of training camp, the Steelers wasted little time reacting to his holdout: They called Antonio Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and summoned him to Latrobe as fast as they could.
Within two days, the Steelers and Rosenhaus had crafted a new contract for Brown – a six-year extension worth $42.5 million, a big number for a player who was considered the No. 2 receiver and was entering just his third season in the league.
But, with that signing, the Steelers were telling Wallace and just about anyone else that they considered Brown, not Wallace, their No. 1 receiver.
That signing, that decision, is the reason the Steelers will not be able to re-sign Wallace, who is an unrestricted free agent. If they consider Brown to be their No. 1 receiver – and his signing would certainly suggest that – then the Steelers are not going to sign Wallace to a contract bigger than the one they gave Brown. Their pay structure doesn’t operate that way.
Wallace already rejected a contract larger than that during last offseason. He is not going to accept anything less right now, even after a season in which he did not register the number of big plays to which he is accustomed.
So did the Steelers react emotionally and make a rash decision to hurriedly sign Brown?
An argument could be made to suggest they did.
The Steelers signed Brown to a big contract extension because he was coming off a season in which he became the first player in NFL history to have 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 return yards in the same season. Brown also made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist.
Also, Brown looked to be the better and more productive receiver than Wallace in the second half of the 2011 season. He had 51 of his 69 catches and 846 of his 1,108 receiving yards in the final 10 games of the season. Wallace, meantime, had only 19 catches for 271 yards in the final six games.
But there was a reason for that.
When it became apparent to the coaches that Hines Ward could no longer be an effective receiver, the Steelers moved Brown to the split end, or X, position in their offense because he did not know the plays or assignments at Ward’s position – flanker. Split end is more of a big-play position with deeper routes and opportunities for more catches. The Steelers moved Wallace to flanker (or Z receiver), where he had more inside routes and blocking assignments.
Not surprisingly, Brown’s production increased and Wallace’s decreased. This year, the Steelers moved Wallace back to the split-end position, and he finished as their most targeted receiver. He finished with 64 catches and tied for the team lead with eight TDs.
Brown finished with 66 catches and only five TDs, but he was never really the same late in the season after missing three games with a high-ankle sprain.
Now, the Steelers are poised to lose Wallace, who is one of the few receivers in the league who can run past any defensive back, no matter the coverage. And their receiving corps will suffer a big setback. There is still some question if Brown is really a No. 1 receiver.
Could this have been avoided if the Steelers didn’t make such a rash decision? Perhaps. Then again, the Steelers felt as though they would never be able to meet Wallace’s contract demands and decided to make sure they would at least get one of their top receivers under contract.
Either way, what happened in July will go a long way toward impacting what will happen now.
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