Before wide receiver Mike Wallace became a restricted free agent, the Steelers made it crystal clear that their intention is to sign him to a long-term contract and keep him in black and gold.
"Our goal with him has always been and always will be to sign him to a long term contract," said General Manager Kevin Colbert during a pre-draft press conference on Monday. "We said all along that the decision would be ours. It remains that way and again, we want Mike to be here for the long haul, and he knows that, and we know that, and hopefully at some point we can get that done."
The Steelers began their voluntary offseason workouts on April 16 without Wallace taking part. But that is nothing unusual. First and foremost, the workouts are voluntary and Wallace is not the only player who isn't participating. Secondly, they are focused on weight room and conditioning work, something many players choose to do on their own or with a personal trainer until they are required to report. Reports have surfaced in the media that Wallace doesn't plan on signing his tender, but there has been speculation about him since the day free agency began.
"We are not worried about the reports," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "There were reports every day that he was going somewhere as a restricted free agent. He is still here. We will deal with that day to day."
As the Steelers head in to their final draft preparations this week, Wallace's status will not have an impact on what they plan on doing.
"What goes on with our current team as it stands right now will not influence what we will do in the draft," said Colbert. "We are going to look at the draft as a potential to add more players into the mix. Quite honestly, you are going to get to a certain point where you are adding guys that are going to just be practice squad eligible. They can still help. Maybe they won't make the team out of training camp but at some point in the season they may be added. Really, anything like that doesn't influence us at all."
The Steelers have the 24th overall pick in the NFL Draft and are willing to trade up or down only if it's the right situation, and they also have no problem staying put.
"As always, we will make all the calls," said Colbert. "We will know who is interested and who wants to trade up or down. We will weigh the cost of doing business with each of those teams. If we want to trade up and get a player that we think is in that top-10 or top-15, we have to weigh the cost of the players that we could potentially lose on the back side of it. If teams come to us, sitting at number 24, we have to weigh the player we are going to pass up for what we would potentially get in return. So we will definitely be open to either."
The Steelers have a total of 10 picks, but three of them are seventh-round compensatory picks that can't be traded. Having those selections though, does give the team a bit of a buffer if they trade away any of their original late round picks.
"It does allow you to maybe trade a later pick, because you know you have some other picks to compensate for them," said Colbert. "So if you get into the fifth and sixth rounds, you might be more willing to trade one of those to move up to the third and fourth rounds, because you know you have the seventh round."
Running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who returned to work on April 15 when the players were back for voluntary workouts, has also been involved in draft preparation. Wilson took part in draft meetings on Friday, reviewing all of the draft eligible running backs, and will be on hand this week for the three days of the draft.
"He is working around his rehabilitation at this point," said Tomlin. "It's still ongoing, but it's a process that he's going through. It's great to initially have him back in the building and working. He has some flexibility at this time of year from a draft preparation standpoint. With laptops, that type of work can be done at home, and it has been. We have just started the process of really having him get back into this thing. It's been exciting thus far."
The Steelers added tight end Leonard Pope, an unrestricted free agent who offensive coordinator Todd Haley is familiar with having coached him in Kansas City and Arizona.
The 6-8, 258 pound Pope was attractive to the Steelers for multiple reasons, including his passion for winning a championship. Pope played for the Cardinals when the Steelers defeated them in Super Bowl XLIII and made a comment to Tomlin and Colbert about being on "the wrong side of the confetti," after losing the game.
"I have been on the wrong side of the confetti," said Tomlin of knowing the feeling as well. "This is a veteran football player, who is extremely hungry and wants to be the reason why we win. All of those things are attractive. Obviously he has a history with Todd, which is an added bonus. He is an attractive guy, we are glad to have him here, he knows how to play the game and he is interested in being on the right side of the confetti."