Not News: Mike Wallace Has No Leverage

I just spent a week in the Adirondacks with the extended family. It’s the fourth year in a row we’ve done it, always during the first week of training camp. In general, nothing much happens those first few days. Casey Hampton fails the conditioning test, Big Ben’s arm is sore from too much throwing, and Mike Tomlin wears all black and dusts off the Tomlinisms from the previous season.

This year was different in one distinct way: the Steelers paid one of their best wide receivers and it wasn’t Mike Wallace. When I saw Gretz’s email (there was no phone service in the Adirondacks so, just like it was 2002, I had to actually log on to my laptop to get internet access — rustic indeed), I was surprised but not altogether shocked.

Even before free agency, I was wondering if the organization should take any first-round tenders that came their way if another team tried to sign Wallace. I believe JJ talked me out of it on one of the podcasts, but listen, Wallace has absolutely no leverage. He didn’t have any in March, he didn’t have any in May, and he doesn’t have any now, days into training camp.

And while I think he’s a great player, he’s not going to be the difference between winning a Super Bowl and going 8-8. He was on the field for the second half of last season — including the Broncos playoff loss — and he might as well have been wearing No. 89 with “Mays” sewn across his back. That’s a slight exaggeration but here’s my point: it doesn’t matter how fast he runs, if he’s not making plays, he ain’t worth Larry Fitzgerald money.

To be fair, Wallace tweeted something to the effect of we shouldn’t believe everything we hear, but he’s clearly asking for more than Brown’s five-year, $42 million extension, which he’s worth. But here’s what’s Jason La Canfora wrote recently regarding, well, all this stuff:

“There is a budget in place to sign Wallace. And, again, as I advised in this space oh those many weeks ago, Wallace needs to try to get as close as he can to a five-year, $50 million deal — with $25 million guaranteed — and call it a day. Wisely, sources said Wallace came off his desire to be paid like a Larry Fitzgerald a few weeks ago, when things were progressing, and trying to get a deal around $11 million a year like Vincent Jackson got from Tampa is the new goal.”

(It’s also worth noting — as JJ did at the time — that some of Wallace’s struggles could be traced back to Ben’s bum ankle. I can’t dispute that but I would note that Ben’s peg-leg cowboy impression didn’t hinder Brown’s game.)

It’s easy for me to say that Wallace should just take the $50 mil over five years and $25 mil guaranteed but I understand why he might think he’s worth more. In general, I’m all for guys getting all they can, when they can. At some point, however, reality has to factor into the decision-making process. Wallace ain’t winning a pissing contest with the Steelers. And the longer he waits, the more pressure he’ll face to play well in 2012 on a $2.7 million deal. And if he does that — and his expectations remain unrealistically high — Pittsburgh could just choose to franchise him next spring. And they could do it again 12 months later.

Is it fair? Hell no. But as Tomlin once said early in his Steelers tenure, pressure isn’t winning a game, pressure is working two jobs to provide for your family. In the scheme of things, Wallace has it pretty good, no matter what happens.

Speaking strictly in terms of football, though, he’s not helping himself. Just the opposite. And whatever he decides, the Steelers will be just fine. If he shows, great. If he sits, that’s okay, too. Going into the season with Brown, Manny Sanders, Jericho Cotchery, the three tight ends (Weslye Saunders will miss the first four games because of suspension) and a couple young shifty running backs (Baron Batch and Chris Rainey) who may or may not even make the game-day roster isn’t ideal, but this team won a Super Bowl with Cedrick Wilson, Antwaan Randle El and Hines Ward as its three primary receivers, a second-year quarterback, a solid running game and a really good defense.

Wallace or not, the 2012 offense is better than the ’05 version and I’d feel comfortable saying the same about the defense (although if you want to call it a draw I wouldn’t object). Yes, the Steelers are in an entirely new offense, but I don’t think it’ll be much of an impediment. At least not to the guys who showed up this spring and are now in Latrobe. Which brings us back to Wallace.

“Mike understands that for any steps to be taken,” Colbert told La Canfora, “he has to come here and report to camp and sign his tender and then we’ll see where it goes.”

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  • DJAnyReason


    So… ok, something substantive. In 3 seasons, Wallace has ranked 16th, 1st, and 5th in DYAR and 17th, 1st, and 6th in DVOA. A.Brown has ranked 21st in DYAR and 33rd in DVOA last year. AB was catching passes last year as teams were scheming to cover Mike Wallace. AB looked very good last year, but how many #2 WRs look very good, then go sign with another team as the primary receiver and suddenly look very average?

    If the difference is really $10M vs. $11M a year, I don’t know why the Steelers don’t just suck it up and pay Wallace what he’s asking. The difference is the difference between one vet and one rookie at some backup position. In his 3rd year in the league, Wallace is already solidly a top 5 WR, and arguably the best WR in the NFL.

    • DJAnyReason

      Also want to note, the FULL tweet which got RT’d by SteelersLounge this morning included a second sentence. Full tweet:

      @Steelers_Lounge Please Please Please hurry w/ new posts. I am forced to read BtSC instead, causing points to move from IQ to blood pressure ”
      +infinity for new SteelersLounge content!

      • ryan

        Haha. Intentionally left off that part of the tweet to protect the innocent. Forgot you were a lawyer.

    • Kevin

      Heh, I have been saying the same things on BtSC and the Depot, and almost everyone thinks I am nuts. Most seem to think that Brown is better based on 10 games of production.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    The issue on Wallace is likely the guaranteed money. AB’s $8.5 signing bonus was low for a 5-year deal (although it is only about $500k less than the amount they gave to Ward in 2005 on a 4-year deal). $25mm is obviously roughly triple that amount, but still half of the $50mm in guarantees that Fitzgerald got. So there may be a huge gap between what he’s asking and what the Steelers are offering.

  • TO

    The PS are the losers long-term here. This wouldn’t have been an issue if the front office had been proactive in signing Wallace in the Spring. Instead, they sat on their hands while inferior WRs got deals that the FO would never have dreamed of signing Wallace to. Yeah, let me hear it one more time about what a genius Omar Khan is.

    • Rob D

      Wallace is a great speed merchant who is still learning the position of WR. He wants more money? Sign the tender, get in camp and they’ll cut him a deal. In the meantime, we have other fish to fry rather than worry about some kid who thinks he’s already Larry Fitzgerald.If he said from the beginning that he wanted Vincent Jackson money he’d already have a contract. But he let it be known he wanted to be paid like Fitzgerald. Steelers arent paying that kind of money for a guy who isn’t in the same league as C. Johnson, A. Johnson or Larry. No way, no how..

      • djanyreason

        Not in the same league as C. Johnson, A. Johnson, or Fitzy? Let’s examine that shall we.

        So, for this comparison, we’ll look at 2010 and 2011, as in those two years Wallace was a starter for the Steelers. We will also drop A. Johnson, as he’s been injured for large parts of the last two years (and, note, health is a skill):

        Wallace: 132 Rec, 211 passes, 62.6% catch rate;
        2450 yards, 18.5 yards per catch, 11.6 yards per pass;
        857 DYAR, 39.6% DVOA

        Fitzgerald: 170 Rec, 326 passes, 52.1% catch rate;
        2548 yards, 15.0 yards per catch, 7.8 yards per pass;
        274 DYAR, -2.1% DVOA

        C. Johnson: 174 Rec, 296 passes, 58.8% catch rate;
        2802 yards, 16.1 yards per catch, 9.5 yards per pass;
        826 DYAR, 22.5% DVOA

        You’re right, he’s not in the same league. Those guys get WAY more passes thrown at them, and still don’t produce as much value as Wallace.

        And, to pre-empt an obvious quibble – no, it doesn’t matter that Wallace’s per-pass numbers might go down if he were thrown as many passes. Wallace has produces more DYAR – a counting stat, not a rate stat – than either Fitzy or Johnson in the last two years. If he were thrown an extra 50 balls a year, he’d have to produce NEGATIVE value on those 50 passes for either player to catch him.

        I’m not saying Wallace is out and out better than C. Johnson (I think Fitzgerald is highly overrated, due entirely to his 2009 playoffs). I’m saying that any conversation for best WR in the league that doesn’t include Mike Wallace is unserious.