The All Name Free Agent Team: Mike Wallace

The following is part of a series that can be most easily described as a Free Agency preview.

In case you missed it, here’s the first installment of this year’s quasi-look at NFL free agency:

The All-Name Free Agent Team: Alex Smith*

For the rest of you, I have already defined the criteria for this series (1-The player is a Free Agent that 2-even a Fantasy Football player can recognize) and have launched into a lengthy disclaimer about the folly of free agency – including the guiding common sense principle that asks if these players are so great, why didn’t their teams already sign them to long-term contracts?

In the case of today’s All-Name Free Agent Team member, the answer could lie in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ inability to control their consistent success and/or some bloated veteran contracts.

Or something like that.


-Is Fast. Also has been described as having Top Speed.
-Has proven to be a reliable deep target in the NFL.
-Has produced during non-contract seasons.
-Has a rare blend of youth and experience for an NFL free agent.
-Wouldn’t it be nice for the Browns to steal a Pittsburgh Steeler in his relative prime?
-Exposed the machinations of prominent government and industry leaders.

-The Steelers chose Antonio Brown over Wallace.
-Is cashing in on his first mega NFL contract, which always factors into motivation.
-Played much of 2012 with a focus on not getting hurt in order to get to 2013 free agency.
-Could prove to be a really expensive version of Travis Benjamin
-Could be a beneficiary of Ben Roethlisberger’s broken coverage Extend-A-Plays.
-Best games have essentially come against weak opponents and during losses.
-That whole drops passes thing.

Oh, right – the other Mike Wallace. Although I would love to have seen Wallace grill that grifter Mike Holmgren.

Earlier in the week, I referenced how foreign free agency has become to the Browns – at least since the Wild West days of Phil Savage. Perhaps even stranger is the idea of a contemporary NFL team actually facing salary cap trouble – especially given the virtual lack of a true “hard cap.” Yet, the Steelers are such a team – one that is roughly 10-15 million dollars over next year’s projected cap. Such a financial dilemma was predominately why Wallace held out last summer and only reluctantly signed a restricted tender tag.

It could be telling that the Steelers took the opportunity of Wallace’s holdout to basically choose fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown to be the recipient of a long-term deal. Either from the perspective of overall talent, player and agent cooperation or as a matter of simple efficiency and economics, Wallace was left without the long-term security that he coveted heading into 2012.

A year later, the Steelers are still sorting through a landscape of salary concerns, featuring the likes of young and old veterans – something that has likely propelled Wallace permanently away from Pittsburgh and into the free market.

As for all this Pittsburgh narrative, it fits into the context of exactly why Wallace is a free agent – but also helps to excuse this very fact. In other words, Wallace is a very good NFL player and while not a classic top wide receiver, he is a near prototype of the kind of explosive athlete that an evolving NFL offense requires. And of course, had the Steelers been a bit more savvy in their financial dealings (or just a little more talent-starved), Wallace likely would have been taken care of many months ago.

Yet, it is this very episode of Wallace’s career which reveals the biggest risk a team such as the Browns would assume in making a huge free agent offer. Once he accepted the Steelers’ restricted tag, Wallace was no longer the Pro Bowler of 2011 and adopted a more tentative style of play. Reports out of Pittsburgh suggested that Wallace was merely trying to stay physically intact in order to get a huge future payday – something that is both completely understandable and troublesome to a team like the Browns, whose rare free agent ventures are momentous occasions.

Then again, there’s much to be said regarding the Steelers’ shift in offensive coordinators, their usual plague of offensive linemen, a serious injury to Ben Roethlisberger and a general sense that their veteran team got very old very fast in 2012. Wallace – like the majority of the Steelers’ offense – suffered through the worst of his three seasons (for the sake of argument, let’s discount his rookie season).

Still, I’m pretty sure the Browns would be okay with a 2012 line like that.

If you give Wallace the benefit of the doubt, you’ll remember that the guy who was drafted after Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi was on the verge of stardom in 2010 and 2011, posting nearly 2,500 combined receiving yards and 18 scores. A perfect storm of career and financial anxiety helped to derail what would become Wallace’s contract year – something that is far too easy for us non-professional athletes to poke holes at. Wallace getting paid is secondary compared to the thought of him becoming the first Browns’ receiver to legitimately stretch an opposing defense in years.

If a Wallace to Cleveland event somehow occurs next month, the Browns would enter the 2013 season with a starting lineup of Wallace, Josh Gordon and Greg Little – a unique triumvirate featuring speed, size, agility and strength – something that can help to lessen Cleveland’s perpetual existential quarterbacking question. Naturally, an upgrade in offensive coaching philosophy and play calling could help to further cull the production of such a young, naturally talented group. Add a tight end from April’s draft and the Browns’ long dormant offense suddenly appears potent.

Of course, it’s never this easy.

Despite some really obvious claims regarding Jimmy Haslam’s past Steelers’ ties, the Browns are not a natural fit for either free agency or Wallace’s services. In terms of Wallace’s geographic ties and tastes of NFL success, Cleveland is a far hike for a kid from New Orleans who can already boast about scoring in a Super Bowl. In terms of actual money – which is usually the determining factor in NFL free agency – the Browns are allegedly now run by the tight-fisted Joe Banner, a trollish, cartoon villian of a killjoy who is bent on world destruction, which would effectively negate any pursuit of such a game-changing talent.

Or, it’s becoming evident that several teams – most of which are far better than the Browns – are going to be throwing money at Wallace, for the exact same reasons outlined above. It’s rare that a player like Wallace slips into full free agency in today’s NFL and once this realization coincides with the actual start of the process, Wallace’s worth becomes astronomical.

Yet, considering that the Browns are basically the NFL antithesis of the Steelers, the ability to lure Wallace to the lake front presents the apex of impossibly rare occurrences. The Browns’ recent history of futility and discount youth movements have set them up to benefit from the Steelers’ lavish success – a statement that is profoundly depressing yet extraordinarily encouraging if only in this regard:

The Browns have a LOT of money to spend in free agency.

And Wallace just might be worth it.

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Comments (28)

  1. This is an excellent read about Mike Wallace and his value from Barnwell at Grantland:

    (From offseason 2012)

    I would be 100 percent on board with the Browns acquiring Wallace. I feel like there is like 5% chance of that happening though. He is just the type of guy that is worth breaking the bank on in FA – young, with his most productive years ahead of him, coming at perhaps a discount because his numbers are skewed from getting the ball slung to him by inferior QB’s when Ben is out and also having had a rough year last year.

    The dude is straight up talented though. He has elite natural talent.

    • Great read – I maybe sort of remember this article. After reading it again, the thing that struck me was the reference to “slow play” or total number of plays. This is one of those really simple stats that I love – and a reason I was so for Chip Kelly. Watching the Patriots run so many plays last season (then watching Shurmur take four days to call a play) spoke volumes about where NFL offenses SHOULD be heading. Putting Wallace on a “faster” offense is intriguing and I keep thinking he’s going to wind up on a more progressive team like Seattle, SF, NE or (gasp) Philadelphia. In a sense, this would be best for Wallace to get out of the AFC North. But really, free agency is all about the money and our “ideals” are not the thing that dictates what happens.

      However, I would very happy with a Wallace-Gordon duo for the next few years – combined with a seemingly competent group of offensive coaches. Then, throw in some retribution running from T-Rich and the Browns could finally be watchable.

  2. pdxscott

    it’s worth mentioning that adding mike wallace to the pile at receiver immediately makes a somewhat promising unit into a potential strength of this team.

    wallace and gordon become the starters on the outside and greg little gets to punish people from the slot. mix in some benjamin with four-receiver sets and i think that we might cause problems for some teams.

    richardson would also benefit from this kind of a move as well. teams can’t put 8 and 9 in the box when they have to respect wallace and gordon over the top. adding warmack, wallace and a respectable TE would do wonders for the offensive side of the ball.

    • No doubt. After I did this, I started to realize how the running game would open up. I cannot wait for a healthy T-Rich. Not sure if taking Warmack is worth it – I would be fine with Greco and maybe the other Schwartz brother (or a healthy Pinkston). I would love to see an actual pass catching TE taken in the draft. Not sure if Cameron can survive the NFL.

      • pdxscott

        agreed on warmack – we have more pressing needs. he’s such a beast that i couldn’t help but dream of that offense…

      • jimkanicki

        in my ‘FA targets’ project i’ve been noodling with an interesting #4 target: dustin keller.

        he’s a UFA, jet’s could franchise him but as they’re already 20MM over cap, not sure that makes sense. so i will assume he’s get-able.

        pretty fast (4.5) and good vert (38) for a tight end. jets fans like him. (or liked him. i dont think they like anything about anyone on the current team now.)

        he’s good when he plays. but he didnt play much last year.

        i was also a bit turned off that when you try to find a jpg of him, all you get are these glam shots.

        what say you rebooters? dustin keller for tight end?

        fyi, here’s more TE FAs. pitta, fred davis i like. i admit to not knowing anything about martellus bennett.

        • Bennett is flaky. Davis only came on last year. I like Pitta if only in that all-around tight end role that the Browns haven’t had since – who knows? (Don’t say Steve Heiden). Steve Heiden?

          • jimkanicki

            i grade amendola ‘fine.’ if we want a slot guy and think we’re competing NOW, then welker. and if we want to turn TE into a threat.. dustin keller.

            what we don’t need is a slightly better travis benjamin who exhibits early signs of ‘WR Diva Syndrome.’

            but if i WERE shopping for a WR, i’d rather go after victor cruz (RFA) than wallace.

          • Cruz is more of a slot guy – albeit a really talented one. I say Welker costs a fortune and Amendola comes a bit cheaper. I contend that tight ends can be found via the draft. And don’t forget about everyone’s favorite fullback, Alex Smith.

  3. I’m not as sold on Wallace as I once was. I worry that the Browns will have to give him No.1 wide receiver money when he may not be worth it and, if they look hard enough, may be able to find another wide receiver that is just as productive as Wallace without the high price tag (I don’t have a name at the moment, but that’s why the Browns hired noted “talent evaluator” Mike Lombardi, yes?)

    Wallace’s name would resonate with fans, but that doesn’t mean he’d be worth the money. To point to another Barnwell column from last year, check this one out: Especially this point:

    “Rather than seeing the free-agent pool as being full of players who would provide superior production to the guys on your roster, bad organizations insist on picking one player from that pool and spending more money than they should to obtain an upgrade they can get from just about anyone.”

    The key, as I believe Kanicki pointed out in one of his posts, is to sign a player that his current team doesn’t want to lose. That may not be the case with Wallace.

    • Good points and logic abounds here, but the question is: are the Browns in a position to act in this manner? If not, then they will likely never sign any free agent. As for the “one player from the pool”, Wallace would instantly become the team’s best wide receiver. Barnwell’s comment basically leads to the same place in some team’s cases (like the Browns.) (And Yes, Gordon may be really good in time.) Wallace is a rare find, because the Steelers would have signed him long-term if they didn’t have to pay Roethlisberger, Polamalu and 8 linebackers huge money.

      And really, if Barnwell’s logic is applied to real life, then free agency would become irrelevant.

      • Are the Browns in a position to act in this manner? Probably not. I don’t want to see them getting into a bidding war for someone like Wallace, but I would like to see them kick the tires and see what he has to offer. If they can bring him in for a fair contract, they should definitely consider it.

        Plus the thought of signing him and then signing Kruger away from the Ravens does put a hop in one’s step. Anyone good on the Bengals that they can target to hit the AFC North trifecta? If you can’t beat ‘em on the field, beat ‘em in free agency.

        • jimkanicki

          michael johnson is a UFA.
          6-7 DE, 11.5 sacks.
          too bad we don’t run a 4-3.

          [but the bengals have actually more total room than anyone and should be able to sign him and well as andre smith.]

          • Not that debate again. Because if the Browns did still run a 4-3, that could mean another year of Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker.

        • I like the idea of weakening AFC North teams, but Kruger is fool’s gold. The guy has only surfaced in the last two months, which is really scary for a FA.

          • jimkanicki

            thank you!! the kruger luv is indeed a bit over the top. let us not forget that teams have to account for suggs on the other side of kruger.

          • And really, when was the last Raven to go to another team and have an impact?

      • jimkanicki

        the brown are in position to run the table.

        whether they will is another question, but theyre in amazing shape at the very same time our rivals are in horrible shape.

        * we’re ~55MM under the cap with no FAs to sign.
        * the steelers are ~10MM over the cap and have UFAs all around: mendenhall, wallace, hampton, k. lewis.
        * the ravens are ~20MM under but have a mind-blowing eight starters who are either UFAs or retiring. (Flacco, Kruger, Ellerbe, Pitta, Reed, Kemoeatu, McKinnie, Lewis.)

        this is the year to treat free agency like a draft. this is the year to get impact FAs. and like titus said, this is the year we actually -can- get the FAs that other teams don’t want to lose.

        mike wallace is as good as gone from the steelers. we’d be doing the steelers a favor to offer him a big contract; they’d love to say ‘we wanted to keep him but the browns broke the bank.. blah blah..’

        mike wallace: do not want.

        • I like this piece of the second linked Barnwell article:

          Ideally, teams should be equally comfortable playing premiums for top-tier talent while they scout their way through the flotsam of undrafted free agents and late-round picks into valuable properties.

          It comes down to whether or not you think Mike Wallace is a top-tier talent. I personally do, but I can see why others would be concerned (the ‘he was more concerned about not getting hurt than winning’ last year thing is getting a little too much play though, i watched him every week, and he seemed like he was the regular Mike Wallace, he just added inexplicable drops. If I were to hazard a guess, I would bet he hated Todd Haley, as I think Todd Haley is eminently hateable, and that this impacted his play. The Steelers offense was a mess last year). I think he demands attention from the top of of the defense, and would make everyone else better because of it. Little, Gordon, TRich, whomever we run out there at TE, etc. would all benefit from having his skillset in the offense. He is a proven commodity in the NFL.

          I understand the apprehension of “spending big in free agency” as teams “build from the draft for sustainable success.” I have been thinking about it though, I frankly don’t give a rats butt if the Browns spend and get elite talent in free agency. The problem is when you are paying guys like Laurent Robinson 5yr/33M contracts. THAT is stupid spending in FA.

          I think that the goal of any GM worth their salt should be to accumulate as much elite talent as possible, whether it’s through the draft, FA, or trades. I also think that it’s their duty to maximize the value of their assets – buying low and selling high so to speak. This is also where positional value becomes part of the picture (and probably is the ‘building a team’ part of what Haslam and Banner said they wanted out of their GM).

          There are undervalued assets available in free agency, just as there are in the draft. Deciding not to pursue someone because they have already been in the NFL for a few years doesn’t make sense to me. I would be using every single avenue available to me to improve the 53 man roster.

          I think it’s all a relatively moot point, as the Browns are likely not going to pay Mike Wallace big time money.

          • Right – paying Laurent Robinson is one thing. So is giving Jake Delhomme and Scott Fujita a ton of money. I think it’s rare to find a FA still in the prime of their careers, which Wallace is. And based on the Browns’ other/many draft needs and recent investments at WR (two 2′s and a 4th) AND not having a 2nd round pick means the first pick should go towards a pass rusher or CB – which leaves WR for the FA taking.

            I think the bigger risks are the players who landed one big deal and are looking for the second.

          • Or anything involving Titus Young.

        • I like that idea of FA as a sort of draft – especially since the 2nd round pick was already used. I’m still thinking that in a better cap situation, Wallace wouldn’t be a free agent. I think this is a rare FA chance for the Browns. Now as for Dwayne Bowe, I would say Pass. If not Wallace, I would love to see a real slot receiver come to Cleveland. I’ve been a fan of D. Amendola.

          • Wouldn’t mind Amendola on a cap-friendly contract. He gets hurt all the time though. When he plays he is talented. I would prefer the Browns try and draft and develop a guy like that (undersized, good hands, plus plus route runner, decent speed).

            Titus Young makes me sad. A guy that has all the talent in the world, but is just totally throwing it away. He clearly has some serious issues. Saw someone say this on Twitter, and I totally agree, if Jeff Fisher doesn’t want him on the team, he is going to have a hard time finding a place in the NFL (VY, Pacman, Janoris Jenkins…)

            Dustin Keller is another guy that is good when he plays but is injury prone. Would also prefer to target a TE in the draft over paying him. But if Browns got him on decent contract, I’d be fine with it.

            As for Victor Cruz, I think he is relatively talented (despite having some terrible drops this year) but is largely a “system guy”. He was made to play that position in Gilbrides offense as he is a solid route runner and makes exceptionally good decisions (most of his routes, from my understanding, are Run and Shoot style in that he sees what the defense is giving him and then goes there, and Eli gets him the ball, unlike the Air Coryell/Chud/Norv offense where the guys just run a set route). Would love to have him on the team, not sure I’d break the bank for him. I don’t think he is as talented as Mike Wallace, as the plus plus skill he has would not be used to quite the same extent as it is in the Gilbride offense. Nor do I think that he changes the offense as much as Wallace.

            I am most interested, as we go into this FA season, in finding out what happens with Flacco. Baltimore has a tough decision to make with him. He has them over a barrel. It’s hard to believe they let him walk, but I do think there is a possibility it will happen. The team really screwed themselves by not extending/redoing his contract last year. (By let it happen I mean sign him to the non-exclusive franchise tender and take the two firsts from the team that signs him).

          • Agreed on Titus Young. I thought it was the toxic Detroit environment, but maybe not.

            Another point on Flacco – interesting how no one has commented on how the Ravens FO was basically waiting to see if Flacco could deliver in the postseason. It’s hard to think about now, but entering the playoffs, Flacco was still a bit shaky. Of course, he played great in the playoffs – but to be honest, the Ravens’ offense isn’t that terribly difficult for a QB to succeed in. I think the FO was waiting to find out if Flacco truly was an “elite QB” (whatever that really means) before extending him. Of course, now they have no choice.

            Really, really interesting how two of the league’s “Stable” franchises in Pittsburgh and Baltimore have let their caps get so mucked up. But then again, a team has to be successful in order to allow that to happen.

  4. The Barron of bad news has arrived, hahahaha. We will be disapointed, no free agent worth a hoot will be a Brown. I have been doing my reading the last few weeks and it is similar to past years. Good thread but we have zsro chance of signing wallace/ anyone who could help the browns to a playoff.birth. It’s sad because it’s true. Enjoy the off season bros.

    • We can always dream – and then get angry when Frostee Rucker is the big free agent prize. As I’ve said before, just to satisfy the fans for one day, the Browns should sign Phil Savage to a one-day contract.

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