Mike Wallace Returns to Steelers, No Long Term Deal in Sight

Mike Wallace, the Steelers estranged wide receiver, ended his hold out today having missed the team’s entire training camp and first three preseason contests.

NFL rules prevent Wallace from participating in the team’s fourth preseason game, which is undoubtedly the reason why Wallace chose to wait until today.

Wallace has been welcomed with open arms by his teammates, with James Harrison going as far as to stage a faux interview with him in the locker room. Watch for yourself, courtesy of Steelers Gab.

No Long Term Deal in Sight for Wallace

It is great to see Mike Wallace welcomed with open arms by his team mates. Nothing can sink a team’s chances like locker room desertion, especially when its over who makes what. See the 1993 Steelers as an example (That’s what led to the Steelers policy of not negotiating contracts during the regular season. Click here for the full story.)

Mike Wallace is even saying he wants to be a Steeler for the long term. If he really means that then its a shame, because the likelihood of that happening remains very, very slim.

Steel Curtain Rising claims no special access to inside information here. But its fairly easy to connect the dots from what is known publicly.

In July when the hold out was in its infancy, Kevin Colbert went on the record saying in as much as “Where there’s a will there’s a way” when it came to signing players. 
  • Take Colbert at his word on that, if the Steelers really want(ed) to sign him, they could have.
Ben Roethlisberger reportedly offered to seek out Wallace and talk him into reporting to camp — Steelers management declined to take Ben up on his offer — showing that they’re not willing to bend over backwards for Wallace.
But if Mike Wallace really had a will to be a Steelers, then the way to make that happen would have been to report to camp and continue negotiating in good faith. He declined to do that, and will likely have to find out for himself if the grass really is greener some where else.
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Steelers Sign Antonio Brown, Make Statement to Mike Wallace

One thing that experience has taught me is that this is bigger than all of us. It’s bigger than Wallace and it’s bigger than me.” Mike Tomlin on Mike Wallace’s hold out

While Mike Tomlin’s comments on Mike Wallace’s holdout were clear and fairly strong, they did not go much beyond standard Pittsburgh Steelers head coach boiler plate for contract disputes.

  • Actions, of course speak louder than words.

It’s easy for a coach to talk about focusing on “The guys who want to be here” but it’s another for an entire franchise to put its foot down. And make no mistake about it, the Pittsburgh Steelers put their foot down by giving Antonio Brown a five year contract extension that will keep him with the team through 2017.

Since Mike Wallace became a restricted free agent this off season, Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, and Art Rooney II have said all the right things about resigning him.

This is true despite credible reports that some of the Steelers Brain Trust had reservations about Wallace. The drop off in Wallace’s production during the second half of 2011 was troubling just as the drop off in the 2010 playoffs raised yellow flags.

But both Ed Bouchette and Len Pasqurelli wrote about people in the Steelers organization having worries about the role that attitude played in his drop off.

  • Then came the rumors that Wallace expects to be paid Larry Fitzgerald like money.

The Steelers commenced training camp and Wallace no showed. Add in the fact that Wallace’s is holding out against the advice of his agent Bus Cook, a man who has a history of orchestrating hold outs.

  • Connect the dots and the pattern you get is not a pleasant one for Steelers Nation.

Make no mistake, the Steelers negotiated in good faith. While character and locker room chemistry are important to the Steelers, senior management knows Wallace is one of the rare NFL players who truly is a threat to go all the way anytime he gets the ball in his hands.

That alone makes him valuable. And even when Wallace is dropping passes or letting defensive backs make uncontested plays on under thrown balls, he’s still stretching the field for Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Health Miller.

The Steelers stood ready to give Wallace real money in a long-term deal. And they made good on that intention. Except Antonio Brown’s name was on that contract, not Mike Wallace’s.

There are franchises in pro sports that allow themselves to be defined by a single player or personality. The Pittsburgh Steelers are not one of them.

The Steelers are a far weaker team without Mike Wallace in the line up. But the statement the Steelers made in signing Antonio Brown is that the organization will not be dictated to by one player, no matter how valuable.

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Steelers Cut Jonathan Scott

One day after resigning veteran offensive tackle Max Starks the Steelers made another move by cutting reserve tackle Jonathan Scott.

Johnathan Scott was part of the Steelers 2010 Free Agent Signing Spree that included the returns of Antwann Randel El and Larry Foote. Scott brought on to be a back up but injuries forced him into the starting line up.

Scott struggled, mightily at times, during the regular season, but stepped up his game impressively during the playoffs and Super Bowl XLV. The Steelers thought so highly of his progress that he began the 2011 season as the starter.

That changed fast, however, as he was unable to protect Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side, and the team quickly moved to bring back Max Starks. Scott continued to receive action however, as repeated injuries forced the Steelers to play musical chairs on offensive line.

The Steelers likely waived Scott now, a week before training camp, to give him a chance to sign on elsewhere. The move also potentially opens up a roster spot for either Chris Scott, the Steelers 5th pick from the 2010 NFL Draft and/or Kyle Jolly, an undrafted rookie Free Agent who from 2010 who has spent the last two years on the practice squad. Trai Essex, who can play tackle, also remains on their roster.

Alan Robinson of the Tribune Review reported that the move will save the Steelers 1.7 million dollars against the salary cap – funds that could be used towards a long-term deal with restricted free agent Mike Wallace.

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Steelers Send Message With Decision to Resign Max Starks

The Steelers sent a message in the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft: 

  • The era of “Plug and Patch” offensive line building in Pittsburgh is over.

Mike Tomlin’s offensive staff quickly confirmed this move after drafting DavidDiCastro and Mike Adams when they called Willie Colon to inform him that theoft-rumored shift to guard was going to become real.

The Steelers shifted Colonbecause they’re projecting Mike Adams to start at right tackle.

Today in resigning Max Starks the Steelers sent another unequivocal message: 
  • You have to earn your role as a starter when you’re a Pittsburgh Steeler

The latter message was just as important as the former. Mike Adams brings more than his fair share of baggage to the NFL – Adamsknocked himself off the Steelers draft board with a positive drug test at the NFL scouting combine.

Adams worked himself back into the Mike Tomin and Kevin Colbert’s good graces, and they rewarded him by giving him a chance.

But when news of Colon’s shift to guard was accompanied by confirmation that Marcus Gilbert would remain at right tackle the idea that the Steelers braintrust might be giving Adam’s more than a chance wasn’t so outlandish.

Afterall, the only two people he’d have to beat out were Trai Essex and Jonathan Scott – both mean whose track record at the left tackle position is checkered – to be charitable.

But with Max Starks on the roster, the Steelers have brought in a veteran whom Adams will have to push himself to beat. They’re also giving themselves the luxury of allowing Adamsto grow into the position.

Steelers Sign Starks – an Annual Off Season Rite

Perhaps when I launched Steel Curtain Rising in January of 2008 I it never occurred to me to  write up a batch of generic articles to cover typical, recurring, events.

One such story could have been “Steelers Resign Max Starks.” 

That would have come in handy as hardly a year has passed without Max Starks putting ink to paper with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That four year contract got cut short, however as Starks injured his neck during 2010 and had to finish the season on IR.

The Steelers “Resign Max Stark” yarn took an unexpected twist in 2011 as Starks, after weighing in at over 400 pounds at Ben Roethlisberger’s wedding, was cutas soon as the lockout ended.

When WillieColon went down after the Debacle in Baltimore, many fans expected the Steelers to rush to the Red Phone to resign Starks (or perhaps Flozell Adams who actually offered his services to the Steelers — for a price.)
That plan lasted all of 3 games when it became crystal clear that Jonathan Scott was not a 16 game starter at left tackle. Discretion is that better part of valor, and the Steelers turned to Max Starks, initially thinking he would provide depth, but Starks started immediately — and the Steelers offensive line improved as a result.

Starks appears to be happy with the Steelers, Alan Robinson of the Tribune Review indicated that Atlantawas interested in signing him, despite the fact that the Steelers never seemed to have made up their collective mind on him.

However rumor is that Starks was never high on Bruce Arianslist, and that of course is a moot point now. Welcome back to Steelers Nation Max (again).

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Steelers cut Troy Smith

The Pittsburgh Steelers announced yesterday via Twitter that they have cut 4th string quarterback and former Heisman trophy winner Troy Smith. The Steelers had signed Smith to a futures contract in January.
The decision to sign Smith surprised some, but was quite understandable as Bryon Leftwich, Charlie Batch, and Dennis Dixon were all unrestricted free agents heading into the off season. Both Leftwich and Batchhave since resigned with the Steelers.
Smith had worked out with the team throughout the off season, including OTA’s and Minicamp.
Saved by the Bell….
Anyone who (that is anyone who works a full time job) has their own site about their favorite sports team can tell you, one of the biggest frustrations is having more ideas than you have time to write about.
Sometimes, however, that is a blessing.
I know little of Troy Smith, other than he’s bounced around the league for a few years in spite of his strong college pedigree. Yet, a recently published story on Smith in the Post-Gazette, combined with tales form PG Plus about his arm strength got me thinking that perhaps Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin had brought Smith as more than insurance.
According to press reports, the Steelers actively want to groom a young signal caller to be Ben Roethlisberger’s back up. They didn’t draft a quarterback in the 2012 NFL Draft, seemingly leaving room for Troy Smith to win a job in camp.
Or so my article was about to argue.  Sometimes being too busy to write is a blessing.
Daylight for Dennis Dixon….?
Smith’s departure brings the number of experienced quarterbacks on the Steelers roster to 3. They traditionally bring four to camp to keep everyone fresh.
Dennis Dixon, the team’s 5th round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft had expected (or at least hoped) to cash in during free agency.
The first two rounds of free agency are over and the draft has come and gone and no one has called Dennis Dixon’s number.
This amounts to pure speculation on the part of Steel Curtain Rising, but one has to wonder if letting Smith go opens up a slot for the team to give Dennis Dixon a chance to win a spot in camp.
That prospect is not entirely likely, as Dixon was unhappy with his role last year and made noises about being traded, but the possibility remains.

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Steelers Say Goodbye as Mewelde Moore Signs with Colts

The Pittsburgh Steelers said good bye to reserve running back Mewelde Moore, who will rejoin Bruce Arians at the Indianapolis Colts.
Moore arrived in Pittsburgh in 2008 with little fan fare, the news of Moore’s signing breaking on the same day that Ben Roethlisberger signed his 100 million dollar extension.
Moorenever became a star with the Steelers, but he was an invaluable back up and effective third down back.
Mewelde Moore passed through training camp and the beginning of the 2008 campaign largely ignored by the press if not the coaches.
But Mooreplayed a crucial role when injuries felled Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhalland Carey Davis. Moore started in the all-important mid-season show down with Jacksonvillethat year and helped breath life into Mike Tomlin’s “The Standard is the Standard” philosophy by running the ball with authority.
  • Mooreplayed extensively during the rest of 2008, and was one of that Super Bowl season’s unsung heroes.
And that’s how his career in Pittsburgh will be remembered. Moore never got a lot of fanfare, but he always gave it his all whenever he stepped on the field.
Caught in the Backfield Glut
With Rashard Mendenhall still rehabbing his ACL and likely to start the season the PUP, Isaac Redman is poised to enter 2012 as the Steelers starter. 
Behind Redman the Steelers have quantity depth but the quality of the depth remains an unknown. Jonathan Dwyer looked good in his only start vs. Tennessee, but he’s had chronic off season conditioning issues and hasn’t been tested extensively.
Barron Batch was a training camp hero last summer in Latrobe before injuring his ACL and, while his potential is real, much remains for him to prove.
Chris Rainey, the Steelers 5th round pick from the 2012 NFL Draft, offers alluring potential but, then again, can’t we say that about every draft pick this time of the year?
John Clay also figures to be in the mix.
With David Johnson moving to full back, the Steelers will likely carry four pure running backs on their roster. Redman and Rainey are locks to make the team, with Dwyer and Batch holding down the other two spots – assuming that Rashard Mendenhall starts the year on the PUP.
  • Steelers coaches liked Moore, with Kriby Wilson likening him to “an old familiar suit case.”
While the Steelers made little or no effort to sign Mewelde Moore, word was that he might become a training camp addition, depending on how the competition at the back up spot played out.
  • For good for or for ill, that Indianapolis has now taken that option off of the table.
Best of luck Mewelde, Steel Curtain Rising wishes you great success in Hoosier country – as long as that success comes not at the expense of the Steelers….

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Steelers Sign Byron Leftwich

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette is reporting that Bryon Leftwich has resigned with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Steelers first acquired Leftwich in 2008 when Charlie Batch got broke his collarbone in preseason. Leftwich got significant playing time in three days that year, and considered staying with the Steelers. However, he opted to depart for Tampa, but Leftwich was back again via trade in 2010.

Mike Tomlin would like to anoint Leftwich as his designated back up to Ben Roethlisberger, but Leftwich’s fragility keeps getting in the way. He injured his knee late in preseason 2010, when he was expected to start during Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension. Last year a broken arm in preseason shelved him for the year.

While there’s a lot to like about Byron Leftwich, his durability has become a real liability.

The move puts five quarterbacks under contract with the Steelers with the possibility that they will draft one in the 2012 NFL Draft. It his highly unlikely that the Steelers would bring more than four quarterbacks to training camp at St. Vincent’s.

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So Mike Wallace Wants to Play Hard Ball?

The deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets from other teams has expired, meaning that Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace’s rights revert to Pittsburgh.

By refusing to sign, Wallace is inviting other NFL teams to make the Steelers a trade offer.

All accounts are that the Steelers will say no, but the NFL Draft can bring up some crazy deals, so who knows? If someone is dumb enough to make a trade offer of Hershel Walker/Ricky Williams proportions, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are likely smart enough to say yes.

Refusing to sign is the only card Wallace can play in hopes of getting a big payday now and if that’s his goal it makes sense to play it.

  • For another week.

Once the 2012 NFL Draft has ended Wallace’s stubbornness slips from shrewd to stupid. If Wallace really thinks he can play hard ball with the Steelers he is sorely mistaken. The franchise has weathered holdouts before and will do so again.

  • In 1983, Franco Harris, the franchise icon who authored the definitive play in Steelers history held out for more money.

Chuck Noll’s response was “Franco who?” Dan Rooney’s actions spoke far louder, and resulted in Franco finishing his career after 8 mediocre games in Seattle.

He held out the entire season while under contract and the Steelers traded him on draft day in 1989. (Unfortunately, they ended up taking Tom Ricketts with the extra pick….)

  • Barry Foster tried it too in 1993
He skipped mini-camp and held out during the beginning of training camp. He reported, and only after that did he get his new contract.
  • Even Hines Ward was not immune.

He held out in 2005. Dan Rooney did meet him in private, but the message was clear: Show up and we’ll start talking. The lesson is clear. If the Steelers didn’t flinch when face to face with two franchise icons, they won’t do it for a budding receiver who is gaining a reputation for having attitude issues.

Ah Those Attitude Issues….

A few weeks back, the Watch Tower noted that Ed Bouchette had cited attitude issues for the drop off in Wallace’s production in 2011. Steel Curtain Rising asked him about this in a PG+ Chat, and Bouchette doubled down. As did Gerry Dulac.

Len Pasquarelli also wrote a similar article.

Mike Wallace is an amazing talent, and attitude is not going to prevent him from finding the payday he seeks. But if he thinks he can force that to happen in Pittsburgh he’s in for a surprise.

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Steelers Resign Charlie Batch

In the 1980’s the middle of the Washington Redskins defense was anchored by a player named Neal Olkewicz. Olkewicz, an undrafted rookie free agent, lacked some of the “measurables,” and as a consequence Joe Gibbs and Bobby Bethard never tired of trying to replace him.

And year after year, Olkewicz beat back the challenges of the young turks, until he finally decided to hang it up 1989, having played for 11 years and started all but 13 of the 150 games he played in…

…Perhaps Charlie Batch is the Steelers’ Neal Olkewicz incarnate.

For several seasons running the Steelers have brought Batch to Latrobe with the thought that by the time camp broke, they’d be nudging him toward his “Life’s Work” in favor of younger, more durable successors such as Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon.

And every year one of those younger, “less fragile” players ends up getting hurt, and every year the Steelers turn again to Charlie Batch.

The pattern may be about to repeat itself here in 2012. In what has almost become an annual rite of spring, the Pittsburgh Steelers resigned backup quarterback Charlie Batch.

The move gives the Steelers a veteran presence behind Ben Roethlisberger who has started 5 games in Roehtlisberger’s absence in the last two years alone, going 4-1.

The move gives the Steelers 4 quaterbacks on their roster, including Troy Smith, a Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State, and Jerrod Johnson, a first-year pro from Texas A&M.

Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette confirms that the Steelers remain interested in resigning Byron Leftwich, who has also been wowed by the Colts.

If the Steelers do, that would create a bottle neck at quarterback. NFL teams do not enter camp with 5 quarterbacks on their roster and presumable one, of those signal callers would have to go before arriving at St. Vincents, with the other being eliminated during the team’s time at Latrobe.

Just don’t be so sure to assume that the odd man out will be Charlie Batch.

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Steelers Resign Jerricho Cotchery, David Johnson

It’s been a busy week at the South Side. It began with Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan dipping their quills to sign Leonard Pope and having done that, they liked it so much they started a streak which included inking Doug Legursky and Trai Essex.

The biggest move of course was the resigning of veteran reserve receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Cotchery was an unrestricted free agent who signed with the Steelers in the summer of 2011 and tested the waters.

He apparently drew some interest from the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams. But the money and/or the opportunities were not there for Cotchery.

The move came on the same day that news leaked that restricted free agent Mike Wallace will not sign his tender from the Steelers, and either to force the Steelers to seek a trade a trade prior to the 2012 NFL draft or simply as a move to pressure the Steelers into offering him a long term deal.

Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say on the Wallace situation when/if he declines to sign the Steelers offer. However, with Cotchery’s future with the team secured for the next two years, the Steelers gain some insurance should Wallace attempt to play hard ball.

Perhaps more importantly, Jerrico Cotchery fills the void created by Hines Ward’s retirement for a veteran presence in the Young Money receiving corps.

David Johnson Comes Around

One player with no illusions about playing hard ball is tight end David Johnson. The Steelers selected Johnson in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft and since that time have seen him develop into a capable players as an H-back or hybrid tight-end/fullback.

As a restricted free agent, Johnson could have signed with another team, and that team only would have had to have given up a 7th round pick in return.

Johnson perhaps harbored hopes of finding greener pastures, but after the Steelers signed back up tight end Leonard Pope, Johnson quickly signed his restricted free agent tender.

It is unknown whether that tender is guaranteed or if the Steelers can cut him in training can and have to honor the tender.

If the restricted free agent tender is guaranteed, that spells more bad news for Wesley Saunders, because the Steelers will have three tight ends under contract who’re all but certain to make the team and the squad has never carried 4 tight ends.

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