Contrary to popular belief, the sky will not fall if and when wide receiver Mike Wallace leaves the Pittsburgh Steelers. Granted, if he leaves, there will be a void at receiver that will need to be filled, either via the draft or free agency.
After some crying, ice cream and breakup movies, the Steelers will get over Wallace. Maybe, they will even be better off.
Let’s look at five reasons why the Steelers will be just fine without Wallace.
If most Steelers fans are like me, they were floored when the Steelers flipped Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets for a measly fifth-round pick. It felt like a punch to the gut, especially since every Jets fan I knew gleefully pointed out what a fleecing the trade was.
It was a sad day to be a member of Steeler Nation, and many members didn’t know where the franchise would go next.
Fast-forward to the present, and Holmes has done some positive things for the Jets, but it hasn’t been a crippling loss for the Steelers. Mike Wallace has developed, Emmanuel Sanders has taken some steps forward and Antonio Brown has come into his own. There’s no reason why a similar situation couldn’t play out again.
Consider the receivers involved.
Wallace is blazing fast, but Holmes isn’t exactly a slowpoke. Holmes is also 10 times the route-runner whom Wallace could ever hope to be, and his hands are loads better, too. Yet, the team survived his departure, and they will do the same when Wallace leaves.
Wallace is at his best when he gets behind defenses and catches passes deep down the field. As fast as he is, that kind of route still takes time to develop. In offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s short-passing attack, the point is for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to deliver the ball quickly in order to minimize sacks and hits.
Big plays are still possible, but they usually result from a receiver making defenders miss after the catch. That’s been one of the biggest knocks on Wallace’s game. Both of the young receivers on Pittsburgh’s roster, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, have extensive experience in the return game, making them valuable assets in this capacity.
If they add one of the several promising wideout prospects in this year’s draft, the Steelers should be able to pick up right where they left off. The injury to tight end Heath Miller could prove to be a difficult obstacle to overcome, though, and that should be the focus of the Steelers offense moving forward.
The adage says that you can’t teach speed. However, burners are becoming widely available in today’s NFL. Guys like Devery Henderson, Brandon Tate, Kevin Ogletree, Ted Ginn and Donnie Avery will be available in this year’s free-agent class.
I am by no means saying that any of these guys are one-for-one replacements for Wallace, but I’m making the point that speedy wideouts are becoming the standard. If the Steelers decide that they can’t live without a deep threat and they aren’t satisfied with the players whom they currently have, they have options in free agency.
The draft offers its own collection of speedsters at all talent levels. Cordarrelle Patterson, Terrance Williams, Marquise Goodwin and Markus Wheaton are only a few of the burners who will be there on draft day.
Whichever way they choose to proceed, there is no shortage of options for replacing Wallace's speed.
It was painfully obvious that Mike Wallace was in a contract year last season.
Players can react in two distinct ways when they are in the final year of their contract. Some, like Vincent Jackson, go on the warpath and dominate games in order to land a large deal in the offseason. Others, like DeSean Jackson and Wallace, play to not get hurt. They get alligator arms, they pull up on routes and they don’t engage blocks like they should.
I personally have no patience for the second type, and the Steelers shouldn’t either. It’s selfish behavior in a city that lionizes players who lay it all on the line.
Wallace was out of sorts all season. He dropped pass after pass in some of the most crucial situations this year, especially on his trademark deep-catch opportunities. In total, Wallace dropped six passes. He also fumbled twice this year and admitted that he wasn't focused when the ball wasn't coming his way enough.
The Steelers don’t want players who don’t give 100 percent every single play, so they should let some other team give Wallace the payday he wants.
Maybe Antonio Brown didn’t follow up his breakout 2011 season with the dominant 2012 campaign that Steelers fans hoped for. I believe it was a fluke, nothing more.
Where Mike Wallace was taking it easy because he wanted a new contract, I think that Brown tried a bit too hard to live up to the new deal that he signed before the season. He’ll settle in and be a bigger contributor this year.
At his best, he is hands-down a better receiver than Wallace in every area other than straight-line speed. He has also mentioned a desire to be a leader for next year's team, a role that Wallace had the opportunity to seize. Instead, Wallace disappeared, both on the field and in the locker room.
There's a lot of commotion about Wallace leaving the Steelers this offseason, but if you watched enough games, you saw that this year, he wasn't really there anyway.
The picture is bigger than just the stats, though. It sounds corny, but the Steelers only keep receivers who are good representatives of the team. Historically, the team merely rents pass-catchers for the duration of their rookie deals and moves on.
Brown is active in the community and has become a fan favorite. He keeps out of the headlines and is always ready to interact with fans, especially through social media. He’s the kind of guy who makes Steelers fans proud to root for the black and gold.
The front office that watched talented playmakers such as Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes don the uniforms of other teams re-signed underdogs such as Brown and Hines Ward to new contracts. Character counts when it comes to receivers in Pittsburgh, and Antonio Brown is next in a line of players to be proud of.