The Miami Dolphins snagged the biggest prize in the 2013 NFL free-agency period by inking Mike Wallace to a monster five-year $65 million contract with $30 million guaranteed and $5 million in incentives (via NFL.com).
— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) March 12, 2013
The problem is, the Dolphins will regret the contract sooner rather than later.
The numbers are daunting for any player, but especially one of Wallace's caliber. Miami needed a No. 1 option on the offense for second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and Wallace allows the receiving corps to round out nicely with Brian Hartline recently re-signed (per Profootballtalk) and Davone Bess in the slot.
In four seasons, Wallace has accumulate just over 4,000 yards receiving, 32 touchdowns and a 17.2 yards per reception average. The positives end there, as Wallace is mostly a deep threat rather than a well-rounded receiver.
In short, Wallace will provide a spark for the offense, but he will not be a reliable target on every down for Tannehill, which begs the question—was Wallace really worth $65 million?
According to ProFootballFocus, Wallace ranked as the No. 91 overall receiver in the NFL last year on a list of 105 players at the position.
There's a variety of reasons for the low ranking.
For one, Wallace has a lanky frame at just 6'0" and 200 pounds. He struggles to efficiently run-block and create separation at the line when jammed by larger cornerbacks. Of course, when not pressed, he uses his elite speed (he ran a 4.33 40-yard-dash at the 2009 scouting combine) to burn defensive backs.
The true value of a quality all-around receiver worthy of the money Wallace just made is how he performs on third downs and how often he actually catches the ball.
According to ProFootballFocus, Wallace caught just over 50 percent of the passes thrown his way, 55.2 to be exact. This placed him in the bottom half of the NFL overall in terms of percentage and exposed him as a player who struggled in crucial situation such as third downs.
Wallace is an excellent route runner when deep down the field, but that means he has to actually get there first and then catch the football. That's great for a big play, but his inability to convert third downs and bring in the ball consistently could hurt more than help.
Next, consider that Wallace is actually on the decline. His yards per catch has dropped steadily from 2010 to 2012: 21, 16.6, 13.1. His yards per game dropped in a similar manner as well: 78.6, 74.6, 55.7.
This steady drop in what are Wallace's most important categories cannot be attributed to a lack of attention from the Pittsburgh Steelers offense either. Per ProFootballFocus, Wallace led the Steelers in targets in 2012 with 116.
In Miami, Wallace is going to receive double-teams more than he ever did with the Steelers, which could further his decline rather than help him out of it.
Conventional thinking says that players set to hit the free-agent market typically produce their best work in order to land the largest deal possible while in their prime.
So why was Wallace on the decline heading into a contract year?
It says something that the Pittsburgh Steelers were unwilling to retain Wallace. Sure, part of it was the money he wanted, but it is obvious the Pittsburgh front office did not feel he was worth it after they placed Antonio Brown above him on the depth chart and gave him a five-year, $42 million deal (per ESPN).
Pittsburgh is known for keeping its star players, but was perfectly content with letting Wallace walk.
Perhaps part of the reason the Steelers let Wallace go was his attitude. After Brown received his pay day, Wallace responded by holding out for a new deal of his own to no avail (per Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Add in the fact Wallace made it known he wanted to paid $120 million like Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson (per The Sacramento Bee), and this could end up being a problem for Miami.
What happens when Wallace is not getting the ball enough, or if Tannehill is underperforming? He no longer has the luxury of catching passes from Roethlisberger and may not receive as many targets in the Dolphins offense as he did in Pittsburgh.
Wallace will routinely take the top off the defense to open up opportunities for other players on the team, but does it make sense to invest so much cap space in a distraction?
Right now, the Dolphins' front office and fans are likely thrilled at the prospects of Wallace in the Miami offense, but they could be singing a new tune in a year or so. Wallace failed to elevate his game in a contract year and lacks a well-rounded skill set that makes him a threat all over the field.
In a few years when the Dolphins are strapped for cash and need to retain key pieces of the franchise, how likely is it the $65 million investment begins to look like a horrible decision? The answer is very likely.
Wallace has his money in the form of $30 million guaranteed. The ball is now in his court to hold true on his end of the deal, but we have seen big-name free agents time and time again receive their pay day and take the foot off the pedal.
For Miami, the Mike Wallace investment is going to look like a very bad one in a few years.
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