Mike Wallace is one of the most talented young wide receivers in the NFL, but this season has been a particularly poor one for him as he is set to enter free agency. The Pittsburgh Steelers will close out their season at home against the Cleveland Browns after 16 weeks of sheer disappointment for the franchise as a whole. Wallace likely won’t have to worry about being a part of another season like this, at least not in Pittsburgh. In fact, Wallace doesn’t even have to worry about being a part of the team this Sunday as he has been ruled out of the team’s final game because of a hip and hamstring injury.
Outside of tight end Heath Miller, Wallace was second on the team in receptions this year with 64. He averaged only 13.1 yards per catch, a career low, to finish the season with 836 yards, 20 more than Miller and 51 more than the next closest wide receiver, Antonio Brown. Brown has missed time already this season with an ankle sprain and played other games while still dealing with the effects of the injury. He still matched Wallace in receptions, but only had half of his touchdowns with four. Wallace and Miller combined for 16 of the Steelers’ 24 receiving touchdowns, so you would be forgiven for thinking that Wallace had a good season.
Of course, that is not the case. Wallace was very inconsistent on the season. At times he showed a lack of desire to make plays he should routinely make, while he also dropped six of his 70 catchable passes. His speed was not best shown off in Todd Haley’s offense, but he did routinely fail to connect down the field and beat coverage when Ben Roethlisberger did look deep. Furthermore, Wallace didn’t show up in the big moments when the Steelers needed him to be at his best. Instead of having big games against the Baltimore Ravens and in that game in Cleveland or against the Cincinnati Bengals, Wallace stockpiled yards against the lesser teams on the Steelers’ schedule and racked up statistics in garbage time on other occasions.
Against AFC North competition, Wallace had 19 receptions(including one reception games against the Browns and Bengals) for 142 yards, zero touchdowns and one very costly fumble against the Ravens. That is an average of just under four receptions per game for 28.4 yards. Compare that to his better games, when he totaled 21 receptions for 423 yards and four touchdowns in four key losses to the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys, and there is a notable difference in quality. Wallace averaged over five receptions, over 100 yards and a touchdown per game on those days.
Wallace may have had a bad year and shown off a poor attitude at times, but he remains a very good receiver who will be highly sought after. In order to re-sign him, the Steelers would need to offer him a massive contract. He simply is not worth the price that will win the bidding war and furthermore, he doesn’t fit in the Steelers’ new offensive scheme. When Bruce Arians called plays in Pittsburgh, he would routinely look for Wallace deep down the field and ran an offense that showed off the best aspects of his play. However, now that Haley has made a commitment to the running game and a quick passing attack, Wallace sees less deep routes and more slants, crossing routes and intermediate route designs.
The Steelers have already invested heavily in Brown and will have Emmanuel Sanders and Jericho Cotchery under contract entering next season. Sanders and Cotchery may not have been as productive in their respective roles in 2012, but both are better fits in Haley’s offense than Wallace. Cotchery is a refined route runner while Sanders has the agility and quickness to run every route. He took some punishment going over the middle this year, but still offers the team a more physical presence who can make difficult receptions on a consistent basis. The Steelers don’t need to add a starting wide receiver with Sanders and Brown on the outside, but they will need depth. Mike Wallace won’t be signing anywhere to be anything but a number one wide receiver, so he shouldn’t be signing in Pittsburgh.
Unless the Steelers let Todd Haley leave in the offseason and bring in a new offensive scheme, there is little reason to think that he would be worth re-signing even at a reasonable rate.