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Steelers could use franchise tag on RFA Wallace

Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 08: Mike Wallace #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs the ball for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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The Steelers don’t have any unrestricted free agents that would make sense as franchise tag candidates. But they still may use the tag.

Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert said via Scott Brown the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the team hasn’t ruled out placing the tag on restricted free agent Mike Wallace.

“Certainly Mike has done a lot to establish himself as a Pro Bowl receiver, and we want to try to keep Mike here for the long run,” Colbert said.

This is a case where the new CBA may directly lead to more money for elite players like Wallace. In the past, teams were much less likely to consider placing the franchise tag on RFAs because the cost of signing Wallace away from Pittsburgh would have been prohibitive.

The highest tender the Steelers can place on Wallace now is a first-round pick tender. In the past, interested teams needed to cough up a first- and third-round pick plus a new contract to sign away top-shelf restricted free agents.

Essentially, would a team like the Patriots picking late in the first round be willing to give up a first-round pick to sign Wallace? That question has to worry Pittsburgh.

The more we think about it, the more likely it is that the Steelers will eat up some of their cap space by using the tag on Wallace if they can’t reach a long-term deal.

The other alternative is too risky.