Starkey: Steelers need Wallace
By Joe Starkey
Published: Sunday, August 5, 2012
You can call Mike Wallace delusional, selfish, greedy and flat-out wrong.
You might have pumped your fists and cheered when the Steelers signed their other top receiver instead of Wallace.
Maybe you laughed at him then the Steelers flashed their might in that over-the-top news conference for Antonio Brown (how come LaMarr Woodley didn’t get a news conference when he signed a big deal at last year’s camp?)
You can talk about how nobody stares down the Steelers and lives to tell about it, and you might be justified in all of that.
But don’t forget this: The Steelers need Mike Wallace more than he needs them.
The team might be absolutely correct in its assessment of Wallace’s value. But if it loses his services for a significant portion of the season or is forced to trade him, it doesn’t “win.” That said, I don’t blame either side so far.
The Steelers, who are incredibly good at appraising talent, don’t want to pay a player significantly more than what they think he is worth. Nor should they have to.
Wallace doesn’t want to surrender the prime earning years of his career for significantly less than what he thinks they are worth. Nor should he have to.
Clearly, Wallace also is balking at the idea of risking his body on a one-year salary that is absurdly low given his resume. That would be the tender of $2.742 million. The Steelers are telling him he needs to sign it and show up for camp before they reopen negotiations.
Wallace essentially is saying, “No thanks,” and likely has noticed that several players around the NFL already have been injured at training camp.
Contrary to popular belief, Wallace still has plenty of leverage. He can miss 10 games and still accrue a year’s service and thus attain unrestricted free-agent status after the season. In other words, he could make a little less than $1 million for playing six games and then hit the open market -- though the Steelers could prevent that by placing the franchise tag on Wallace. They could do it the year after, as well. It would come at a hefty price, likely around $10 million per year, but it is a leverage point in their favor.
And if you think missing those 10 games would crush his market value, consider the case of Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson, who recently signed a five-year, $55.55 million free-agent deal that included $26 million guaranteed.
You tell me: If a 29-year-old lesser player than Wallace, one whose history includes all kinds of legal issues, a three-game, NFL-imposed suspension and a 10-game holdout can score that kind of contract, what could an unscathed 26-year-old Wallace get?
Yeah, that’s what Wallace likely is thinking, too.
The other fact that somehow gets lost in all this is that Wallace is really good. A game-changer, actually.
I keep hearing that he is a “one-trick pony,” which I guess is true if the trick is catching lots of passes for lots of yards and lots of touchdowns.
Everybody knows about Wallace’s crazy speed. He’s also highly productive and durable. He has never missed a game.
As a story on Grantland.com pointed out, the only receivers in the past 30 years who’ve had more yards and touchdowns than Wallace in their first three seasons were Randy Moss and Jerry Rice.
Here are Wallace’s first three seasons compared to Larry Fitzgerald’s:
• Fitzgerald: 230 catches, 3,135 yards, 24 touchdowns.
• Wallace: 171 catches, 3,206 yards, 24 touchdowns.
Am I suggesting that Wallace is as good as Rice, Moss or Fitzgerald and deserves a Fitzgerald-like $128 million contract?
Absolutely not. I’m just saying he puts up awfully nice numbers for a one-trick pony — and those numbers can’t measure the space he creates for others by virtue of his blazing speed.
I’m guessing new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s playbook would need significant revisions if the most dangerous deep threat in the NFL doesn’t show up.
So, if Wallace is that good, why didn’t he get an offer sheet, as was widely predicted?
That’s a great question, one I’m sure the players’ union would love to tackle, if it hasn’t already.
That question could lead us to speculating on the possibility of collusion among NFL teams. We’d have to ask a bunch of them why they wouldn’t surrender the relatively small price of a first-round pick — and harm the Steelers — for a receiver with comparable first-three-year numbers to Fitzgerald.
Was Wallace asking for too much money?
Maybe. And maybe he still is. If his demands are ridiculous, the Steelers shouldn’t flinch. They should stay the course.
Just don’t confuse that with “winning.”
They need Mike Wallace.