Now that the Broncos have won the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, they’re the newest entrants in the Mike Wallace sweepstakes.
With the dust settling in Denver after Manning told the Broncos today that he’ll be their quarterback, the next step in the Broncos’ offseason plan of action (in addition to trading Tim Tebow) will be assembling a roster of players that fits Manning’s strengths. And although bringing in Manning’s buddies like Jeff Saturday, Brandon Stokley, Dallas Clark or Joseph Addai might be nice, what would really help the offense is the addition of a big-play wide receiver.
Wallace, a restricted free agent, may just be that receiver. Any team that signs Wallace to an offer sheet that the Steelers don’t match would owe the Steelers their first-round draft pick, but on NFL Network Monday, Mike Mayock made the case that Wallace would help the Broncos more than whatever player they might take 25th overall.
“I would make an offer that Pittsburgh would have a lot of trouble matching for Mike Wallace,” Mayock said. “I’d be happy to give up my first-round pick, and I’d make that young man a rich, rich young man. And I’d have a vertical threat to go along with Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas — I might look at Dallas Clark. You’ve made a commitment to Peyton Manning. Now let’s go get him the weapons.”
Before the Broncos entered the Manning sweepstakes, no one mentioned Denver as a possible destination for Wallace because Tim Tebow doesn’t have the arm to take advantage of Wallace’s deep speed. But Manning, assuming he’s healthy and playing like Peyton Manning again, absolutely does have that arm.
And the Broncos, even after they pay Manning a boatload of money, will have plenty of cap space to make Wallace a good offer. The key to working out a deal that the Steelers won’t match is to front-load it with a high base salary for 2012. When we last reviewed the team-by-team salary cap space, the Broncos had $40.0 million and the Steelers had $5.8 million. Even after paying Manning, the Broncos will have plenty of room under the cap to offer Wallace the kind of contract that the Steelers simply can’t afford to match.
It’s also good for the Broncos that their pick is relatively low in the first round — thanks to beating the Steelers in the playoffs. There are no sure-thing players at No. 25, but the Broncos could be sure if they signed Wallace that they would upgrade their passing game.
And while the Steelers value Wallace and know his departure would hurt their offense, they may actually be glad if some team signs him to an offer sheet. There are worse things than getting an extra first-round draft pick, and it’s unlikely that Pittsburgh can keep both of its good young receivers, Wallace and Antonio Brown, in the long run. Letting Wallace go for a first-round pick now is better than keeping him on the restricted free agent tender and watching him go for nothing a year from now, when Brown also becomes a free agent and the Steelers probably won’t be able to keep both of them.
Add it all up, and Wallace in Denver makes a lot of sense. Manning would certainly like it.