Sit back and think about this scenario, New England Patriots fans. It's a doozy.
Tom Brady drops back in the pocket, behind a wall of linemen ranging from rapidly improving youngsters to seasoned All-Pros. Wes Welker runs underneath. Aaron Hernandez works himself open toward the sideline. Rob Gronkowski romps down the seam.
And Mike Wallace sprints down the sideline, racing past whichever cornerback was unfortunate enough to draw the matchup short straw.
This is the fun part of the NFL season. The part where you don't have to think about what is happening, and can think all you want about what can happen instead.
And the reports are that this can happen. Wallace is a restricted free agent, and the cap-weary Steelers don't want to pay the arm and leg necessary to franchise someone. So tendering's a possibility, but it's not without risks. It's a cheaper alternative, but it's also easier to pry the player away.
All a team would need to give up, in addition to matching the offer sheet, is a first- and third-round pick, if Wallace were tendered at the maximum, and most expensive, amount.
The Patriots have a first-round pick. Two of them, actually. If they want to, they can strike.
That is, if they want to. That's a big if. Because normally, the Patriots don't want to. It's too risky. First-rounders are too valuable. After all, first-rounders can turn into so much. Like more lower picks, a favorite around Foxborough. The possibilities are endless.
The Patriots are notorious for their stinginess when it comes to draft picks. They move down, not up. Moving up means paying more money. They don't do it. They rarely even draft where they're slotted. And they definitely don't trade those first-round chips.
They might want to consider a change to the philosophy, if just for one instance. Because Wallace is worth it.
He may not be an elite downfield receiver, but he's an elite downfield threat. His speed, easily top five among receivers, makes man-to-man coverage a gamble every time. He forces defenses to make their safeties support more in coverage and play less at the line of scrimmage.
Defenses find it harder to cram the short-to-intermediate part of the field—exactly where teams have succeeded in defending the Patriots.
Wallace fits the mold of the wideout that could best help the Patriots like a worn receiver's glove. He's fast, dynamic and good enough on short routes to run the creative patterns that have become staples of the New England offense.
It was thought that there would be another player fitting that skill set on the market, but DeSean Jackson appears a lock for the franchise tag. That would make him borderline impossible to obtain.
Wallace isn't. He could be had and provide the deep threat in the offense once filled by Randy Moss, only without the headaches, insecurity and declining talent.
A first-rounder is a valuable commodity, make no mistake about it, but in the end, what is it? It's a chance to draft a playmaker, a weapon or a game-changer.
That's what you get in Wallace. With a first-round pick, you're just hoping to draft someone like the Pro Bowl wideout.
But it's a move the Patriots never make. They've never coughed up a first-rounder for a tender fee. It's too risky. Too rich for their blood.
Maybe it's time to change the rules.