Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace is drawing much more than standard interest as he prepares to hit free agency on March 12.
In fact, you could confidently make the case that he is the most sought-after free-agent WR on the market.
Wallace tops Gregg Rosenthal's Top 85 list of 2013 NFL free agents and figures to be in line for a big pay day from a team looking to add a deep threat in 2013. As reported by Andrew Brandt, deals for WRs like Dwayne Bowe (and Brian Hartline, as reported by Fox Sports) are going to set the market for big names like Wallace and Wes Welker:
As expected, 10 or so teams will likely be in play for Wallace's services. Although the Steelers don't appear to be one of them, franchises like Cleveland, Miami and Minnesota have put their hats in play for March 12's opening gunshot.
With less than a week until the bidding war for Wallace begins, here's a complete breakdown of which teams are currently in play for the star speedster and a few teams that might emerge late with big bucks to throw at the star wideout's agent.
The Dolphins are the hottest name for Wallace right now, specifically because the position was such a crutch in 2012. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill performed well last season, but Hartline was his only true target and the offense suffered as a consequence.
Jeff Darlington reported on Wednesday morning (via NFL.com) that Wallace is the No. 1 free-agent target for the Dolphins, trumping earlier rumors that Green Bay Packers castoff Greg Jennings was the clear-cut option.
Here's an excerpt from Darlington's report:
But just how much do they covet him? Is Ireland, who has taken a conservative and methodical approach to the construction of his roster, willing to suck it up and open his owner's wallet to make sure the deal gets done? Everything, to this point, suggests that yes, he is.
With Hartline, Wallace and Davone Bess in the fold, the Dolphins might change their approach at No. 12 in the 2013 NFL draft. Right now, the Dolphins have plenty of cap space, a young QB and a premier city to play football in. The Dolphins have to be one of the favorites for Wallace.
Originally reported by Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Wallace-to-Cleveland talk has died down considerably.
However, that does not take the cap-friendly Browns out of the picture for the four-year NFL veteran, even if the chatter has died down to a lull. No matter what happens over the next week, the Browns will check in on Wallace's the price tag, dreaming of a Josh Gordon-Wallace tandem for years to come.
The price and that dream, however, may be on two different levels of reality.
That being said, Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland is reporting that the Browns are more apt to look at a guy like Steve Breaston (Ohio native, cap friendly) instead of Wallace, since the price tag will be so high out of the gate. Either way, expect the Browns to be mentioned again in the Wallace race before writing them off completely.
New England Patriots
The "will he or won't he" saga of re-signing Wes Welker reached an apex on Wednesday, after ESPN reported that Welker fully intends on testing the free-agent market before making any decision about his future with the Pats.
Combine that reality with what Ian Rapoport of NFL.com said about Tom Brady's new contract, and there's a good chance the Patriots are one of the sleeper teams when it comes to adding a new deadly wideout.
If Welker is back in the fold next season, it likely ends all hope for Wallace, and vice versa. However, if there is no longer any hope for Welker's return by March 13 or 14, the Patriots are going to have to look elsewhere for help.
An obvious replacement is Danny Amendola of the St. Louis Rams, but Wallace also fits the bill in New England because of his supreme speed and ability to draw safety help over the top. Brady already makes high-caliber throws against compressed coverage as it is; a threat like Wallace might open the field up even more for his two tight ends and underneath routes.
The Pats are by no means the favorite but remain a true dark-horse candidate as we enter the final sprint of the NFL's most relaxing 30 days of the year.
While Darlington was insistent on the Dolphins as a clear-cut No. 1 option for Wallace, he also insinuated that the Minnesota Vikings would be in the market for a receiver—and for good reason.
Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper also chronicled the chances that Minnesota gets involved.
Minnesota relied on Adrian Peterson to constantly beat nine and 10-man boxes in 2012, and he just happened to be the best running back on the planet—that's why the Vikings made the playoffs.
The wide receiver unit was a disappointment in 2012, headlined by Jerome Simpson's inability to stay healthy and Percy Harvin's bout with the same kind of setbacks. Jarius Wright was a nice surprise at the end of the season, but fellow Arkansas alum Greg Childs also disappointed after missing the year with injuries.
The Vikings need help.
Sure, Christian Ponder's development plays a big part in getting the ball to open receivers. But having a legitimate deep threat for the first time in his young career would also be huge, and Wallace is exactly that kind of player.
Tennessee is in a similar situation to Minnesota with its QB (Jake Locker) and could have a dangerous one-two punch with Kenny Britt and Wallace in tow.
Peter King noted on NBC Sports Network (on Wednesday, noted in Alper's piece above) that the Titans are now a dark-horse candidate for Wallace. They are looking to add a deep threat to complete a WR trio of Britt, Nate Washington and Wallace.
With Chris Johnson worried about the offensive line and the coaching staff worried about the defensive line, signing Wallace would be a huge move for Tennessee prior to the draft. It could then turn its full focus to a pair of starting-caliber linemen and help on the interior defensive line.
Which team should Wallace sign with?
We can't yet discount the possibility that Wallace returns to Pittsburgh, but his departure seems to be a foregone conclusion.
The Steelers didn't franchise tag their former WR, and that move alone should signal the end of his time in Steel City. The two sides haven't gotten along since Wallace's holdout prior to the 2012 season, and instead of another financial headache, the team appears ready to spend money elsewhere.
Don't sleep on the Carolina Panthers—which desperately need a WR for Cam Newton—to emerge late in the game. As noted by NFL.com's Marc Sessler, head coach Ron Rivera wouldn't discount his team's interest in Wallace as a running mate for Newton and Greg Olsen.
As you can see, the rumors are just heating up for the best WR on the market. Welker and Jennings are also nice pieces, but both are consolation prizes at this point. That should make Wallace's chase fun for media pundits like myself, giving us plenty of opportunity to speculate on his favorite location.
Conversely, it might be a big headache for the interested parties.