The Pittsburgh Steelers have been here before. Mike Wallace isn't the first high-profile Steeler to hold out for a new contract and place his desire for money ahead of the best interests of his teammates. The Steelers seem to be handling him much the same was as they did Mike Merriweather in 1988.
For those of you who don't remember or who could use a little refresher course in the way the Steelers handle holdouts, let's have a look at what is going on with Wallace versus the way things unfolded with Mike Merriweather.
What Is Wallace Doing?
This is where pretty much everyone is scratching their heads. Wallace has no leverage whatsoever here. The Steelers just gave virtually the same money they set aside for him to Antonio Brown, the team's other up-and-coming receiver who showed in 12 starts that he was likely a better player than Wallace.
Wallace got pouty and sour toward the end of 2011 because of Brown, an attitude which likely played into this bitter dispute. Wallace then asked for a contract comparable to Larry Fitzgerald's deal and in excess of $100 million. That was unreasonable on many levels and was rejected by the Steelers.
Since then, Wallace has made himself scarce. He skipped all of the team's offseason program and now is sitting out training camp in a moody, pointless dispute. Kevin Colbert will not make him available in a trade, so his leverage is completely gone.
While the best thing for Wallace to do would be to show up, play one season at $2.74 million and then test unrestricted free agency, he seems content to subject himself to the will of the Rooney family and the Pittsburgh front office. That's a battle he's sure to lose.
Does he sit out an entire season over a new contract? I don't know if he has the guts for that, but if he doesn't sign his tender and make nice, that's his only other option.
What About This Merriweather Guy?
Mike Merriweather was a stud linebacker for Pittsburgh in the 1980s during the lean years after the dynasty players were all gone. He was a third-round draft choice in 1982 and played for the Steelers until 1987. After that season, he got embroiled in a similar contract dispute to what we see today and sat out the season in protest.
The Steelers then, during the next offseason, dealt him to Minnesota for a first-round pick. The year out of the game had taken a toll on a player who'd made three Pro Bowls already. He never made another and was lackluster at best until his career ended in 1993.
What we can learn from this is that the Steelers will not bend for a player no matter their caliber. Merriweather was as important to the 1988 Pittsburgh defense as Wallace is to the 2012 offense, but the Steelers had options then and they do now.
But Why Not Just Trade Him?
Kevin Colbert isn't that stupid. Neither is Mike Tomlin. Neither is Art Rooney II. They can't trade Wallace.
Of course he'd have plenty of value, especially now that teams are seeing holes and have no good way to fill them externally. The Steelers would set a dangerous and unacceptable precedent if they traded Wallace. Because of that, he will stay home or play for the Steelers.
What precedent? Players pay attention to how teams handle situations with teammates. If Wallace was to get traded, a fat extension would be part of the deal. He'd be getting what he wants. All he had to do was sit out and the Steelers would be seen as relenting to his demands as best they could since he's turned down all their offers.
So say Emmanuel Sanders has a breakout 2012 season as the starter opposite Antonio Brown. He's up for a new deal. He doesn't like the numbers presented by Pittsburgh. Now, he will have the idea and the leverage to hold out until he's traded to someone who will pay him the money he wants.
Give in one time and you create a problem forever. That's not the Steeler way of doing things.
How Does This End?
Everyone, including me, had pretty much thought Wallace would come in by now, that skipping a season or part of it wouldn't be worth it.
Unfortunately, he seems to have a very thick skull.
There are two ways I see this ending. Wallace's agent could advise him that it is better to play for less this year to buy freedom next year. Missing a year is a bad way to go. Look up Mike Merriweather's career statistics if you don't believe me.
The other way? Wallace goes the way of Merriweather and sits out 2012 and gets dealt to the highest bidder in 2013. At that point, it would be interesting to see how his career pans out without a top-flight offense around him and after a year on his couch.
What do you think will happen? Leave your scenario in the comments!!!