PITTSBURGH — Mike Wallace sat in his usual spot in the corner of the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room and decided it was time to hold court.
Hey, it’d been awhile for the leader of the self-proclaimed “Young Money Family.”
The Pro Bowl wide receiver posed for the cameras alongside teammates Antonio Brown, Chris Rainey, Jerricho Cotchery and Ike Taylor while flashing a smile and cracking jokes, business as usual for one of the NFL’s fastest playmakers.
It was almost as if Wallace’s lengthy holdout – one that finally came to an end on Tuesday – never happened. Maybe because that’s the way Wallace prefers it.
“I’m not dwelling on the past,” Wallace said. “I have no regrets.”
He also still doesn’t have the long-term deal he covets.
Instead the 26-year-old will play under the one-year, $2.7 million tender offered by the Steelers and hope something lengthier gets worked out before the regular season begins next week. As a rule the Steelers don’t negotiate contracts during the season.
Wallace, who caught a career-high 72 passes for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns last season, remains optimistic an agreement can be reached before Pittsburgh faces Denver on Sept. 9.
“This is the team that drafted me and it’s where I want to stay,” Wallace said. “I’m not really worried about down the road. I’m worried about playing football. … That was business. I’m not on that right now. I’m here to play football and that’s it.”
Even if Wallace won’t be able to actually practice until next week. Still, Wallace believes he’ll be ready to face the Broncos even if it means cram sessions getting up to speed on new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system.
“We have two weeks to the game,” Wallace said. “I’ve been working out. I’ve been really good conditioning. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”
Neither does quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who kept in contact with Wallace during the holdout. The two have developed into one of the NFL’s best deep-passing combinations over the last three years, with Roethlisberger’s arm and Wallace’s blazing speed giving the Steelers an ability to stretch the field few teams can match.
While Roethlisberger allows there’s going to be a steep learning curve for Wallace, he’s eager to have Wallace back on the field.
“It’s kind of like your parents telling you you get a new car then it has to sit in the driveway because you don’t have any insurance,” Roethlisberger said. “Once you get that insurance, you get out and take it for a ride.”
Wallace spent a significant amount of time during his holdout working with trainers in Florida and refining his route-running looking to avoid another slump like the one he endured at the end of the 2011 season. He posted four 100-yard receiving games in the first seven weeks of the year but didn’t top 82 yards in any of Pittsburgh’s final nine games as defenses adjusted.
In his place, Antonio Brown developed into Roethlisberger’s most trusted target and signed a six-year, $42 million extension early in camp while Wallace waited for the phone to ring.
Don’t expect any sort of rivalry, however, between Brown and Wallace.
“A player like Mike is so explosive and gets so many things done,” Brown said. “You need a guy like that on your team. It’s amazing when you can get him lined up on the other side and you know what he is capable of. It’s a great thing to have him here.”
Wallace declined to get specific about what he accomplished by holding out and said only “my teammates need me” when asked why he decided to end it without resolving his contract situation.
“My teammates know what was going on,” Wallace said. “My coaches know, I kept in contact with them. So as long as they know, I really don’t care about anybody else.”
Though he’s had a copy of Haley’s playbook for weeks, Wallace knows there will be a breaking-in process. He felt he got a few “mental reps” watching his teammates go through drills in preparation for the preseason finale against Carolina on Thursday and huddled with receivers coach Scottie Montgomery when practice broke.
“I’m learning the plays,” he said. “Here I at least get to see it. At home I couldn’t see it ... I’ll be back on Monday hopefully and I’ll be ready to roll.”