PITTSBURGH – Since joining the Steelers as an unheralded third-round pick in 2009, wide receiver Mike Wallace has been a stalwart in the team’s lineup, never missing a game and rarely sitting out regular season practices.
That streak will come to an end Sunday, when the Steelers (7-8) close out their regular season at Heinz Field against the Cleveland Browns (5-10).
Wallace will not play in the game due to a hip injury suffered in last week’s 13-10 loss at Heinz Field to Cincinnati that eliminated the Steelers from the playoffs.
He also might have played his final game as a member of the Steelers.
Scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season, Wallace held out of training camp this year in an attempt to get a new contract with the Steelers, who instead rewarded wideout Antonio Brown with a five-year, $42-million extension.
It’s doubtful the Steelers will be able to fit yet another large contract for a receiver under their 2013 salary cap, meaning Wallace, a 2011 Pro Bowl player, is expected to hit the open market.
“This is the team I’ve been with my whole career,” said Wallace. “I don’t know anything else. I love playing here.”
Like the rest of the Steelers offense, Wallace has struggled at times this season adjusting to new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s offense and playing a three-game stretch without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Haley’s short passing game didn’t seem to take advantage of Wallace’s main attribute, his sprinter’s speed, and he saw his catches fall from a career-high 72 in 2011 to 64 this season. His yards per catch dipped to 13.1, well below his career average of 17.2.
That culminated last week, when he caught just one pass in the loss to Cincinnati, though Roethlisberger notably missed him twice – once in the first half on a deep ball when he had gotten behind the secondary and also in the fourth quarter when Roethlisberger overthrew an open Wallace and was intercepted to set up the Bengals’ game-winning field goal.
“It would definitely be disappointing,” said Wallace when asked how it would feel if that was his final game with the Steelers. “I wouldn’t want to go out like that.”
But it appears that could be the case, though his teammates certainly want Wallace back.
One of the top deep threats in the NFL, Wallace has 235 receptions for 4,042 yards and 32 touchdowns in just four seasons. He ranks 10th in career receptions for the Steelers, eighth in receiving touchdowns and seventh in receiving yards.
“Obviously, every year we want to have everyone back,” said Roethlisberger. “We know that never happens. I think we’ve got a great group of guys. … I hope he’s back.”
In addition to Wallace, offensive tackle Mike Adams (ankle), the team’s 2012 rookie of the year, cornerback Curtis Brown (ankle) and linebacker Marshall McFadden (abdomen) were declared out for Sunday’s game.
Odds and end zones
Cleveland declared quarterbacks Brandon Weedon and Colt McCoy out, meaning second-year player Thaddeus Lewis, signed off the practice squad earlier this week, will start at quarterback. … The Browns also designated rookie running back Trent Richardson as out. Montario Hardesty will start in his place.