The Miami Dolphins have made a terrible mistake.
Maybe that's too blunt, but it's true; they've brought in Mike Wallace for an incredible five-year, $60 million deal that has $27 million guaranteed. Worse yet, the numbers for the deal are incredibly front-loaded with a $1 million cap hit this year, but a $15 million fully guaranteed hit next year and a $3 million fully guaranteed hit in 2014. That $3 million turns into $9.85 million if he remains on the roster past the fifth day of the 2013 league year—not 2014, 2013. From Palm Beach Post's Ben Volin:
The language that Wallace’s 2015 base salary becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on the team on the fifth day of the PREVIOUS year is interesting. If Wallace is a total disaster this coming season, the Dolphins can get out of the contract after one year. But that scenario is highly unlikely, because Wallace’s 2014 salary of $15 million is fully guaranteed. If they cut him after one year, it would be a one-year, $27 million contract for Wallace. That ain’t happening.
That isn't No. 1 receiver money, that's Calvin Johnson money.
In case you're wondering, Mike Wallace isn't Calvin Johnson.
In case you're also wondering, Bus Cook is one heck of an agent.
This isn't the Dolphins spending cap space irresponsibly; this is Jeff Ireland burning the next general manager's money for one last chance at warmth. This is Stephen Ross spending ridiculous amounts of money to help grease the wheels of a new stadium deal.
OK, deep breaths everybody. Here are the positive notes about the deal.
Where Will the Miami Dolphins Finish in the AFC East in 2013?
Wallace is a true No. 1 receiver. His presence shifts Brian Hartline down to No. 2, which is a much better fit for him. That leaves Davone Bess as a slot receiver, which is a perfect fit for him. On top of that, the Dolphins are still in play for a number of tight ends and could be in line for more offensive help in the draft as well.
Awesome for Ryan Tannehill, who deserves some better weapons, but that doesn't mean it's somehow better to overpay for a borderline No. 1 by giving him absurd amounts of guaranteed money. This issue is similar to when a first-round pick at receiver turns into a No. 2 or a No. 1 who needs a lot of help around him (see: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Crabtree, Jonathan Baldwin, etc).
On the surface, the signing may give Dolphins fans hope that their receiving corps will look much like the Green Bay Packers receiving corps that Joe Philbin had in his previous stop, but ESPN's Andy Benoit quashes that notion pretty quickly:
The magic of the Packers' passing game—besides it being orchestrated by Aaron Rodgers—is the flexibility of its wideouts. Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Donald Driver (now Randall Cobb) can all line up inside or outside; they can all run great patterns out of a trips bunch or out of isolation on the weak side; and they can all catch passes without breaking stride.
Wallace has posted impressive yards-after-catch numbers before, but many of them came from him sitting down in a zone before turning upfield and making an improvised play. That's very different from catching on the move by design, as the latter requires timing and precision.
For Wallace specifically, it becomes a bigger issue whether or not he will truly be as effective as he was for much of his Steelers career. Watching tape of Wallace both during the season and since this move was made, I've noticed that a lot of Wallace's best plays were "schoolyard" plays with Ben Roethlisberger as if the two of them had drawn it up in the dirt.
Will he have the same chemistry with Tannehill? That's a big gamble with a lot of money on the table.
The general maxim around any free agent is that there's some reason—however small or irrelevant it may be—that the player hit the open market. The Steelers decided to bet on Antonio Brown long term and let Wallace walk even if it may have short-term consequences for their receiver depth.
Now, what did Jeff Ireland see in Wallace that Kevin Colbert didn't? What was worth so much money? If it was a specific scheme fit or a value judgement, that's fine, and time will tell which man was correct.
If it was desperation that caused these big numbers, the Dolphins don't have a chance.