The Mike Wallace situation became slightly more interesting this week, as rumors of the speedy wide receiver’s demands hit the internet. On a day when the collective eyes of Steeler Nation were still wiping their tears from the Hines Ward retirement presser, it was reported by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee that Wallace is seeking a contract that eclipses the one signed by all-world WR Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals last summer. As the window for restricted free agency begins to close in on one month, Wallace may have essentially priced himself out of any chance for a long-term deal this year. The teams that have been rumored as chasing Wallace – San Fransisco, New England, Denver, and Cincinnati – all have the cap flexibility to add such a contract if they wanted, even after all four clubs took part in the free agency smorgasbord this week. The problem for Wallace is that while he may think he is on par with Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson, his stat line says otherwise.
Wallace is a dream for an NFL quarterback, and a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. His speed changes the game, and forces defenses to accommodate his presence by overloading his side of the field or dedicating their top defender to isolate Wallace. There is no doubt that he has changed the Steelers offense in his three seasons in Pittsburgh, but a complete player he is not. The big play is the calling card for Wallace, the over the top, down the sideline, burn the defense for a 50+ yard TD play. Where he lacks skills is in the intermediate passing game, as his size – or lack thereof – does not allow for him to play the one on one match-up game in the endzone or in tough third-down situations. He is not quite a one trick pony, but compared to a Fitzgerald or Megatron, their league he is not in.
Wallace is set to make $2.74million in 2012 by accepting the Steelers first-round tender offer. He will become an unrestricted free agent after 2012 and if he excels again this season, he will be much more likely to pull in the type of offer he is looking for. The Steelers have made it clear that they want nothing else but to sign Wallace long-term, and keep him in Pittsburgh to be the key asset in their newly-rebuilt receiver corps. The Steelers could be in deep trouble if Wallace does get an unmatchable offer, as with the retirement of Hines Ward and the pending departure of free agent Jerricho Cotchery, the team is left with Pro Bowler Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders – who has yet to prove he can stay on the field for a full season – as their 1-2 punch at WR. With Wallace in tow, the Steelers will continue to have one of the better receiver combinations in football, and by far the best in the AFC North.
Now it is up to Wallace to either accept reality for what it is, or to continue pushing for the offer he wants that may never come. The unfortunate end result could be a disgruntled Mike Wallace showing up to Latrobe unhappy with his salary. In this crazy NFL offseason, anything is possible, and Wallace may still end up getting a deal from a desperate team with a ton of cap room. If that happens, the Steelers will have no choice but to let him walk, and accept a first round pick as a consolation prize. A fine article posted yesterday here at NPC detailed the Steelers wide receiver draft potential, which you can read here. If Wallace walks, it will be up to GM Kevin Colbert to work his mid-round magic once more and find another solid wide receiver to keep the Steelers passing game afloat under new Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley.
Wallace led the Steelers last season with 1,193 receiving yards and scored eight touchdowns. His impact on games seemed to wain during the second half of the season, when teams began to double-cover him more often and allow Antonio Brown to rack up the receptions. For his career with the Steelers, Wallace has amassed 3,206 yards receiving and 24 touchdowns, while averaging 18.7 YPC. He also has been utilized on end around plays that totaled 15 rushes for 144 yards during his Steelers career.
You can follow Jeff Snedden on Twitter at @jeffsnedden.