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Antonio Brown faces tough decision in 2013

The Pittsburgh Steelers are going through their OTAs without restricted free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace, who thus far has declined to sign his one-year tender (worth $2.742 million in non-guaranteed base salary).

Wallace is not expected to sign his tender before June 14, the last day of the Steelers' OTAs. That's also one day before the team will obtain the right to reduce the amount of his tender to $577,500 or 110 percent his 2011 base salary.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote Friday that Wallace's offseason absence could be a sign of things to come for the Steelers, as wideouts Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanderswill both be restricted free agents in 2013.

Brown is coming off a breakout 2011 season, catching 69 passes for 1,108 yards and two touchdowns while earning Pro Bowl honors as a return specialist. The 2010 sixth-round pick out of Central Michigan is keeping a close eye on the Wallace situation.

"It's definitely a learning process for me, being that I could be faced with the same circumstances next year," Brown said. "I tend to learn from it, take notes."

Sanders, a third-round pick in 2010, has 50 receptions for 664 yards with four touchdowns in 24 games over the past two seasons. A lot can happen between over the next nine months, but past history says the Steelers could find themselves with two restricted free agent wideouts plus an absent franchised receiver in Wallace. Just look at the way the club has handled contracts for players chosen in the third round or later under the 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The new CBA has streamlined the rookie signings process, requiring four-year contracts for all players selected, with teams holding a fifth-year option for first-round picks. That wasn't the case in the old agreement, and in 2010 the Steelers were one of three teams (the Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions were the other two) that were still signing its middle/later-round players to three-year deals.

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Teams that went with standard four-year contracts for their mid-to-late round draft picks were essentially purchasing a player's restricted free-agent year with a higher signing bonus. Players signing four-year contracts had the potential to escalate their fourth-year base salaries to certain levels, usually at or exceeding scheduled restricted free-agent tender amounts, through playing time or performance incentives. The Steelers approach eschewed that model and, as a result, they were able to pay out smaller signing bonuses.

The downside to the three-year rookie contract approach, which the Steelers are experiencing right now and could again with Brown and Sanders next offseason, is that the restricted free agent tenders are new contracts and the player is not required to participate in any offseason activity until they have signed. Fortunately for them, 2010 is the last draft class where this issue will apply.

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