What is Mike Wallace really worth?
That is a very difficult question to answer and Steelers future as a Super Bowl contender might hinge on Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s having gotten the answer correct.
Wallace was an undeniable bright spot in an otherwise difficult 2009 campaign. As a mere third round pick, his play surpassed all expectations, so much that the decision to part ways with Santonio Holmes became a no-brainer.
During 2010, Wallace showed that he was more than up to the task of being an NFL wide receiver – during the regular season, as he caught 60 passes for an eye-popping 21 yards per catch average. His ten touchdowns were only two shy of the team record.
During the playoffs Wallace told a different tale. 26 catches in 3 post-seasons games is perfectly fine, but his 8.8 yards receiving were more of what you’d expect from a running back.
Wallace began the 2011 season on fire, literally.
- He extended his regular season streak of 100 yard receiving games to 6
- Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace 40 yard plus hook ups, were a stable of the Steelers offense
- Wallace now holds the record for the longest scoring and passing play in Steelers history
But Wallace’s play tapered of precipitously as the season wore on. He didn’t score a touchdown in the final six games. Worse yet, he more often seemed to sit and watch as DB’s made plays on under thrown balls.
(In private emails, Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain has argued that Wallace lacks the size and physique to out muscle DB’s in those situations. Fair enough – but should he at least try?)
His slump continued in the post season, becoming more renown for his drop on what could have been a 52 yard game-changing play vs. Denver, than anything else.
A Riddle Wrapped in an Enigma
Mike Wallace remains a riddle wrapped in an Enigma, to steal a Winston Churchill cliché.
And what a tantalizing enigma Mike Wallace is.
As Bill Barnwell of the website Grantland.com points out, only Anquan Boldin has accrued more years in than Mike Wallace in the three years he’s been in the league.
Barnwell indicates that the Steelers total number of possessions has been low during Wallace’s tenure and Ben Roethlisberger has been suspended, out or injured for many of Wallace’s games. He argues that if you control for those factors, Wallace’s numbers take on stratospheric proportions.
Barnwell’s number crunching is mouth watering.
But it also betrays the fantasy-league mentality that is rarely relevant towards what counts in the NFL — winning championships.
Mike Wallace does still have a real upside. And even if he fails to realize it, he is still one of the few NFL players who can take it to the house on any given play.
That alone makes him an asset to any offense.
But that alone doesn’t negate the reality that Wallace still has real holes in his game. Holes significant enough to lend one to believe that he’ll never blossom into a Larry Fitzgerald type receiver.
That’s why the Steelers decision to place a first round tender on Wallace and let him test the market is the right move. More than any other position, the Steelers have shied away from throwing big money at a wide receiver, as pointed out by Ed Bouchette in the Post-Gazette.
With Hines Ward’s time in Pittsburgh over, the Steelers will likely have to make that long-term commitment to either Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown very soon.
They’ve likely given themselves the chance to do that on their own terms and, if not, they’ll have extra first round pick which they can use to draft another wide receiver.