Mike Wallace continues to hold out of training camp while the rest of his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates exhaustively prepare under the hot sun of St. Vincent College in Latrobe. With exhibition season days away and the 2012 NFL regular season a few short weeks in the future, many fans are growing more perturbed as time passes.
They envision the long touchdowns, exciting Big Ben bombs and game-breaking plays that No. 17 has hauled in, naturally turning their attention to what negative impact the absence of such feats could have in 2012.
For the record, this article is not an indictment of any belief that Wallace will or will not show up to camp. If Mike arrives in time to acutely prepare for the rigors of NFL life in a new offense, the team certainly will benefit from his presence and uncanny gifts.
However, though the team's extension of Brown reflects more of its own vested interest in keeping their MVP in black and gold and serves less as an act that handcuffs their interests in also signing Wallace, nobody can deny that the arrangement between the team and Antonio serves as a message about working with those players who are in camp and giving their all—whether intended that way or not.
Wallace realizes that his goals are only going to be accomplished if he first forfeits his illogical crusade of holding out.
In truth, long contract or not, Wallace still stands to gain more in the first months of 2012 than he earned to-date in his career.
So to some degree, he still has huge incentive for arriving in camp later. He also hasn't shown a rational economic stance, one that would dictate being a team player and earning what you're asking for.
Most importantly, however, is that football is a team game. Sometimes, a player has to stand up for his vested interests, but it makes little sense in this circumstance. If he is a team player worth the cash he covets, he'll show up.
And further, so what if he doesn't?
In my opinion, the answer to that inquiry is the same as the question itself: "So what."
The team will move on with or without him, and fans should do the same. Nobody should be panicking; the reality is that receivers don't really make teams or offenses that much better unless many other factors are already in place.
That may be hard to hear, but it's a fact.
In the case of Wallace, unlike some great receivers playing on dynamic teams in the past, his overall value could be replaced by current members of the roster.
Wallace has room to improve in the intermediate passing game, and the Steelers have a pair of receivers who could easily line up across from Brown and excel in that role. Emmanuel Sanders also has the type of speed that would require NFL defenses to continue honoring the type of coverages up top (i.e.: deep safety support) that should have made Wallace an even greater force underneath.
Particularly with a quarterback in the style of Ben Roethlisberger, who depends on timing and chemistry with his receivers before and after plays break down, dedication is the first part of making the offense go.
Do you really think another receiver with credible skills would hurt more than he'd help Pittsburgh, particularly during a season with camp importance magnified as a new offense is instituted?
As it concerns evaluating the team talent and whether Wallace's production is truly replaceable, I'm going to digress. The man himself has been tried extensively in recent weeks, so I will not humbly put my cat o' nine tails back atop my player-whipping shelf.
In other words, it's time to stop beating on the man himself, who is admittedly a supremely talented and deadly force who is much better served on the roster than not.
Instead, the focus now shifts to simple NFL logistics.
Receivers are wonderful tools, but other key areas and positions have a more profound universal impact on offense. While the impact of receivers isn't limited to their four or five touches per game, given that they keep defensive backs honest and often tilt coverage in the passing game, their impact is null if the rest of the body of an NFL team is lacking.
Receivers may be the hands, but the quarterback is the head, the defense and special teams is the legs, and the offensive line is the heart. Depending on the team, that may all be interchangeable, but the point is each of those areas must be right before the hands can mean a darn thing. A receiver's peers are the arms, their presence ensuring that the hands get open to make the catch; still, arms and hands are nothing without the rest of the body being available. In fact, ranking the impact of each position and associated body part, the arms and hands are expendable by comparison.
Sure, the Steelers could be minus Mike, but, they'll have a revamped offensive line. If that element of the offense finds success, it will far outweigh the negatives of Wallace's absence, particularly on a team that seeks more balance on offense and has a franchise quarterback to facilitate in the backfield.
Even the best receivers don't make their teams that much better—so much so that their absence is damning—if other parts aren't working. And, if those parts are working, the absence of a receiver can normally be easily overcome.
Sometimes a Randy Moss is drafted and changes the entire dynamic of an offense, or sometimes a legend like Jerry Rice redefines the impact made by one man.
But Wallace isn't Moss or Rice, and frankly, let's not forget that Moss hasn't won a Super Bowl and that Rice came to the 49ers after they were an established two-time champion.
For teams foolish enough to place their stock on a man at receiver, as opposed to getting better at other more important offensive positions, history shows a fallacy.
Cincinnati brings in Owens and Ochocinco. Bust. (In fact, Carson Palmer's most productive game of the 2010 season came during a week in which both players sat on the sidelines.)
Detroit drafts at the receiver position for years before getting a capable passer and focusing on other phases of their team. Bust.
Hell, though they broke records, Tom Brady didn't miss a beat when Randy Moss—a receiver with rare impact in his heyday—left New England. The offense just kept rolling and achieving new records. And while Moss helped the Patriots set records in 2007, that team still didn't accomplish what Brady successfully seized—the Lombardi Trophy—with Deion Branch, David Givens, David Patten and Troy Brown years earlier (who all did their jobs but were never viewed as standouts individually, at least not without Brady).
Even with lesser receivers, those teams were more prepared for a championship run at more important key areas, not the least of which was defense. And even if one would argue that they were just as prepared, it is still worth noting that great Pro Bowl wide receivers aren't a mandate for Super Bowl success.
Focusing on a receiver first is a fallacious perspective. Period.
That is why Steelers fans, who would all—including myself—rather see Wallace return, should just allow circumstances to play out and be comfortable in the potential for their team's success with or without him.
In fact, Steelers fans should know better than anybody that losing a wideout doesn't kill a team.
How about the "One" that actually was "For the Thumb?" Remember 2005?
In 2004, rookie Ben Roethlisberger developed a fine chemistry with Plaxico Burress, connecting with the tall, physically imposing playmaker for five touchdowns and a number of gutsy receptions. In reality, '04 was a down year for "Plax," but few doubted his loss would loom significant when he left for the New York Giants as a free agent, leaving the offense with an apparent hole.
The normal perspective of most fans heading into 2005, whether or not they choose to remember it, was: "We need a tall playmaker across from Hines. Losing Burress hurts. He was a stopgap for Big Ben. Can the Steelers still win it all without him?"
While many will deny it, those concerns were popular in Steelers Country heading into and even partway through 2005.
After a rough preseason that saw no touchdowns for the offensive starters, fans became a bit impatient. Then, right at the very start of the regular season (Game 1, specifically), the offense performed well across the board in all phases.
Burress was a significant talent in the Steel City, albeit a bit underutilized. But, his departure didn't cause the team to miss a beat. In fact, the Steelers, sans Burress, won Super Bowl XL, proving that solid performances in other areas, including the presence of a great quarterback and solid defense, were the real tickets to glory.