Mike Wallace, like most members of the Steelers offense in 2012, did not have an impressive season.
This has resulted in most of Pittsburgh (at least from my perspective — maybe you’re seeing and hearing something different) to wish him well in his future endeavors (well, maybe they haven’t been that kind about it) and for him to not let the door hit him on his way out of town.
When it comes to Wallace there are no shortage of theories as to why his production dropped from where it was over the first three years of his career.
Was it — as he himself admitted — a lack of focus? Perhaps a struggle to fit into Todd Haley’s offense that seemed to be geared more to short, quick passes as opposed to the downfield attack that Wallace excels in? Or did he simply mail it in because he was unhappy that he didn’t get the long-term, big-money deal he was looking for over the summer?
I don’t know that anybody knows the answer to those questions — perhaps it was a little of everything — but I do know this: Mike Wallace is still the most talented wide receiver on the roster, as well as the most productive, and they will be a better team in 2013 if he remains on it. The problem of course is that I don’t think he will remain on it. Barring something unforeseen happening over the next few months it seems likely that Wallace is going to hit the open market, and even though it’s a path I wouldn’t mind seeing them take, I don’t think the franchise tag is a very realistic option either.
This is a problem for me. And it should be for the Steelers as well.
As we sit right now the only receivers under contract for next season are Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery. Emmanuel Sanders is a restricted free agent (he will surely be back), while Wallace and Plaxico Burress will be unrestricted. Also keep in mind that team MVP and top pass-catching target Heath Miller, whose knee was blown up in Week 16 against the Cincinnati Bengals, likely won’t be ready for the start of the season, either.
I’m not sold on Brown as a No. 1, and while I liked Sanders for much of the season he’s not exactly going to strike fear into NFL defensive coordinators as a No. 2. The Steelers, as we know, aren’t going to dip into the free agent market to land a Wallace replacement, and even if they wanted to they surely wouldn’t find another player better than Wallace as he is likely to be one of the top two players to hit the open market at the position.
Let’s just look at it this way: Since Mike Wallace entered the NFL in 2009 more than 320 wide receivers have played in the league. Only nine of them have recorded more receiving yards than Wallace over that stretch, only two have scored more touchdowns, and only three have averaged more yards per catch. Only 20 wide receivers in NFL history have had more yards in the first four years of their career. He’s led the Steelers in touchdowns (or at least shared that lead) every year he’s been on the team, including this past season.
That is not easy production to replace, and it doesn’t grow on trees.
Just something to keep in mind if this season was it for Wallace in Pittsburgh.
My fear for the Steelers? He ends up in a place like Cincinnati opposite A.J. Green.