The Judas kiss

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn't too happy about all the changes his club...

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn't too happy about all the changes his club has made this off-season. (MARC PISCOTTY/Reuters file photo)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:30 PM ET

TORONTO - Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has lost a long-time offensive coordinator and Wednesday night he telephoned Hines Ward to say good-bye.

Defensive veterans Aaron Smith and James Farrior are expected to be next to get the Judas kiss. All of which has left Roethlisberger hoping the bleeding will soon be over for the salary-cap strapped Steelers; hoping that when they show up for training camp there will be a few recognizable targets to which he can throw.

“He was Hines Ward, one of the best receivers in the game. I got a chance to be in the huddle with him and Jerome Bettis. He made me better. It didn’t matter if I threw a good ball or a bad ball, 99% of the time he’d catch it, whether it was with one hand, off a helmet, or off a defender,” Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, after the club released Ward.

Roethlisberger said it is now vital to resign Jerricho Cotchery and Mike Wallace. “All we have is Antonio (Brown) and Emmanuel (Sanders), technically only two. But if it’s those four, I’ll take that every day in the week. I think you have to do everything you can to sign Jerricho back. He’s not only a veteran leader but a really good player.”

But reality is that Roethlisberger hasn’t made his last farewell phone call.

Thursday sources close to contract negotiations said the team would not put the franchise tag on Wallace. It has nothing to do with management not wanting to keep him. It has everything to do with management not having room under the cap to pay Wallace the $9.5 million it would cost to tag him.

Instead the club plans to “tender” Wallace, which is a gamble.

It means the club can continue negotiations, but it also means any other club is free to sign him to an offer sheet.

If that happens the Steelers would have the right to match the offer — if they can afford it. If they don’t match the offer sheet, Pittsburgh would get a first-round pick.

For a club looking for receiving help, giving up just a first-round pick in exchange for Wallace would be very attractive. After tying for the team lead in receiving touchdowns his rookie season, he led the club the past two years and was named to his first Pro Bowl this year.

Wallace has acknowledged he might be following Ward out of town. “(Pittsburgh is) where I would like to be, but we all know that it is a business and you have certain things you have to handle,” Wallace told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “So if I have to go elsewhere, you know Pittsburgh will always be in my heart, but I have to do what I have to do.”

PHANTOM TEAMMATE

Without ever taking a single snap for them, Robert Griffin III may be the best thing ever to happen to St. Louis.

Rams’ GM Les Snead said “multiple teams” have contacted him about trading up to the second slot in the draft so they can select Griffin.

When the Rams make that trade they’ll get plenty in return to finally provide their own franchise quarterback Sam Bradford with some weapons. “I won’t give a number but I will say this: We’ve been approached by multiple teams, and some of them are obvious and some of them are not so obvious,” Snead told a radio audience.

Cleveland could give up their own No. 4 and 22 picks in a deal. Washington is willing to surrender the sixth overall pick in April’s draft, next year’s No. 1 pick and two other selections. Miami is interested. The Jaguars might be.

The Rams’ GM said “there’s probably not a position in this draft, other than QB” where his club can’t use help and that they need to acquire “explosive weapons” for Bradford. At the recent combine, St. Louis showed particular interest in Southern California offensive tackle Matt Kalil and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon.

GETTIN’ SMOKED

Bengals free agent receiver Jerome Simpson has pleaded guilty to one felony drug charge after a package full of marijuana being delivered to his home was intercepted by police.

Under the plea agreement, Simpson faces three years probation, 200 hours community service, a potential league suspension and up to 60 days in jail with work release (to which ProFootballTalk.com wonders: “does Nike make an officially-licensed ankle bracelet?”)

QUICK HITS

The Chargers are expected to lose running back Mike Tolbert to free agency ... The Falcons are close to resigning defensive lineman Kroy Biermann ... The Steelers aren’t the only team with cap issues. The Raiders may target linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. They could save $17.5 million if they cut him before March 17 ... The 49ers signed linebacker Ahmad Brooks for $44.5 million and six years with a reported $17.5 million guaranteed. Dallas linebacker Anthony Spencer won’t take anything less. So, the Cowboys are expected to sign him to a linebacker tag of about $8.8 million ... Rex Ryan may have designs on signing Ravens’ linebacker Jarret Johnson. The Ravens want the free agent back but Johnson played under Ryan when he was a Ravens’ assistant coach, for six seasons ... Raiders are expected to franchise tag hard-hitting safety Tyvon Branch.

JACKSON TAGGED

DeSean Jackson Thursday became the first player to have a franchise tag put on him.

The tag means Jackson will get at least $9.4 million next season. Meantime, the team can continue to negotiate a long-term deal, or try to find a trading partner.

The Eagles made the announcement in advance of Monday’s deadline to tag free agents. “We want DeSean to be an Eagle for the long haul and this is a step in the right direction,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said in a statement. “DeSean is a talented player and a proven playmaker ... and we look forward to him continuing his career in Philadelphia. It’s our understanding that he has the same desire.”

Meantime, behind the scenes the Eagles entertain offers to trade him. Meantime, Jackson wouldn’t be upset if the Eagles accepted one of those offers.

After three seasons during which he became one of the premier young receivers in the league, in 2011 there were rumblings of discontent from both the team and from Jackson, who believed he was underpaid at $600,000 in the final year of his rookie contract.

In his first three seasons he averaged 57 receptions, 1,041 yards and six TDs. But last year he was a holdout. He was benched for disciplinary reasons. He wasn’t as effective. And because of that he gets only an $8.8 million raise.

This makes sense. But nobody knows why it makes sense.


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