The Eventual Return of Mike Wallace Leaves Questions for Pittsburgh Steelers

By Clyde A. Speller

After months of waiting and waiting, it looks like the Mike Wallace saga is coming close to an end.

Wallace is expected to sign his $2.7 million tender offer, and join the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend.

Pittsburgh’s leading receiver from last season hasn’t participated in organized team activities, or training camp this offseason. According to cornerback Ike Taylor, Wallace has been keeping up with his conditioning in Orlando, FL in the meantime.

The Pro Bowl receiver will obviously be unable to play in the Steelers’ third preseason game against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday, but it is uncertain if he will play in the preseason finale versus the Carolina Panthers.

If in fact he does report to the Steelers training facility this weekend, Wallace will have little less than two weeks to get acclimated to new offensive coordinator Todd Haley and the new offense.

In Wallace’s absence, general manager Kevin Colbert turned his attention to Pittsburgh’s other receiver, Antonio Brown, signing him to an extension worth $42.5 million.

I don’t know what caused Wallace to decide to get ready to report to the team, but it might have been the play of Brown in the 26-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts this past Sunday night. Brown’s spectacular 57-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown could have let Wallace know that he isn’t the only big-play receiver on the team, and that his spot can be taken just as fast as he runs. Personally, I thought Brown’s contract extension would have been enough of a wake-up call.

All right, assuming that Wallace actually shows up to join the team this weekend, there are a few questions that I have wandering in my mind.

First of all, I want to know if he is actually in shape. I would say football shape, but you actually have to play football in order to be in football shape, and that will come in time. So as for now, I’m just interested in whether the training in Orlando with the personal trainer was good enough to get the four-year veteran ready for the 2012 season.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said that Wallace’s conditioning will dictate his feelings towards the receiver.

Second of all, how long will it take for a long-term deal to be discussed between the Steelers’ front office and Wallace? On the other hand, will there be any discussion at all this season? I feel that Wallace’s best chance to get negotiations to resurface is to just hit the ground running and prove his worth. I know he has proven what he is worth the past two seasons (and it wasn’t on the level of Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson), but doing it for three consecutive seasons will definitely give Colbert a reason to offer a multi-year deal.

Finally, with very little practice with the team and with the new playbook, will Wallace start Week 1 when Pittsburgh travels to face the Denver Broncos? My answer to that is no. However, I do think that he will be on the field for a significant number of snaps. Even though Wallace hasn’t been with the team all offseason, his speed still is a threat to defenses, and will definitely help the Steelers’ wounded backfield.

Wallace’s return to Pittsburgh will lift a lot of weight off the shoulders of Steeler Nation. I just hope that Wallace comes in with the right state of mind. I’m sure the Steelers organization is thinking the same thing. This completely drawn-out episode unfortunately tarnished Wallace’s image a little with some fans. Well, the best way to make fans forget is to make it happen on the field.


Follow me on Twitter @ClydeASpeller

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