There aren't many receivers in the NFL with the skill set of Mike Wallace and that's precisely why it's so hard to decide how much he's really worth.
Time to get to the bottom of this conundrum with a comprehensive examination.
According to the sources of CBS Sports' Jason LaCanfora, "the Steelers do not plan to franchise Wallace, just coming off his rookie deal, and do not anticipate meeting his demands in the $10 million-$11 million yearly range."
To put his demands into perspective, during the 2012 free-agency period, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Vincent Jackson to a five-year, $55.555 million (odd, right?) deal.
SI's Peter King wrote the following about Wallace: "I like Mike Wallace," said one general manager with a receiver need. "But I'm not paying him Vincent Jackson money. Not even close."
Wallace is a 6'0'', 200-pound wideout with sub-4.4 speed who excels down the field.
Jackson, too, has proven to be a fine deep threat, but his 6'5'', 230-pound frame allows him to shield defenders and snag lofted jump balls much easier than Wallace can.
What's interesting, though, is that, despite the perception that Jackson is the more well-rounded receiver—and he probably is—the two wideouts have accumulated strikingly similar statistics.
Jackson's career yards per catch average is 17.8, while Wallace's is 17.2. Jackson has averaged just a shade above three grabs per game (3.18) since entering the NFL in 2005, while Wallace's average is about a half catch higher (3.73).
Jackson has 29 touchdowns since the start of the 2009 season, while Wallace has 32.
Neither Jackson nor Wallace have been volume pass-catchers as professionals—72 receptions in a season are career highs for each wideout.
According to ProFootballFocus (subscription required), Jackson's average YAC per grab over the last three seasons was 4.06.
Wallace's was 5.83.
After crunching all the elementary and advanced metrics, it's easy to see that Jackson and Wallace, on paper, are similar wideouts, but we know their skill sets threaten defenses in contrasting ways.
Let's compare Wallace to DeSean Jackson, Miles Austin, Santonio Holmes and Pierre Garcon. Though these four have experienced varied degrees of career accomplishment, they compare more favorably to Wallace from a physical standpoint and were all signed to long-term deals over the last three years.
|Name||Contract (Years / Amount)||Year Signed||Average Receptions Per Game Since 2009||Average Receiving Yards Per Game Since 2009||Average Touchdowns Per Game Since 2009|
|Miles Austin||7yrs-$54.1 million||2010||4.46||66.9||.534|
|Santonio Holmes||5yrs-$45 million||2011||4.20||60.8||.416|
|Pierre Garcon||5yrs-$42.5 million||2012||4.22||57.9||.370|
|DeSean Jackson||5yrs-$47 million||2012||3.85||70.4||.381|
Clearly, context must be considered.
Each player has dealt with vastly different circumstances on their respective teams over the last four years. Remember, Wallace played eight games without Ben Roethlisberger since 2011. But the above table illustrates Wallace's per-game numbers are nearly equivalent to Austin's, especially when it has come to touchdowns.
Austin's contract averages $7.7 million per year and, though many would characterize him as a more complete wideout than Wallace, he is two years older and has dealt with many nagging injuries.
When he inked his multi-year deal, Austin was 26 years old.
Age should come into play in regards to the deal Wallace is ultimately offered. He will be 27 on August 1 of 2013 and theoretically has plenty of good football in front of him.
A contract exceeding five years in length isn't inconceivable, that's for sure.
In conclusion, despite comparable statistics to Vincent Jackson, it's tough to make an argument for Wallace to garner $11 million or more per year.
However, somewhere in the $9 to $10 million per year range—about $2 million more than Austin averages per year—seems like the fair and logical amount of money for Wallace to receive on 2013's open market.
Verdict: Six-year, $57 million contract with $23 million guaranteed.