Are the Steelers Regretting Paying Antonio Brown Rather Than Mike Wallace?
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In 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers offered receiver Mike Wallace a five-year, $50 million contract to remain with the team. Wallace rejected the offer, believing he could get more from another team as a free agent.
Wallace indeed moved on, signing a five-year, $60 million deal with the Miami Dolphins in the spring. This came on the heels of a season that saw his targets drop from 72 the previous year to 64 in 2012 and his yardage decrease from 1,193 to 836.
He was disgruntled with the change in offensive scheme when Bruce Arians gave way to Todd Haley and admitted to losing focus when not getting passing targets early in games.
It seemed like a good idea to let Wallace leave.
After all, he was unhappy with the Steelers and Pittsburgh's salary-cap issues prevented him from getting the kind of money he wanted to the point that even the franchise tag would have been too costly.
But now, Brown is the unhappy Steelers receiver. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Brown erupted on Haley on the sidelines during the Steelers' Week 2 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, upset about how few first-half receiving targets he saw.
Brown has been thrown to 16 times so far this season, which is tied with Jerricho Cotchery and below the 22 passes to Emmanuel Sanders. Bouchette notes that this was a sticking point for Brown last season as well.
Considering the Steelers' struggles on offense and their present inability to field a deep-threat receiver with the ability to get physical with defenders, perhaps the team made a mistake after Wallace rejected what became its final offer.
Brown is just as frustrated as Wallace was, but so far is making a smaller on-field impact than Wallace ever did.
Perhaps the Steelers should have tried harder to retain Wallace and let Brown be the receiver to move on.
Hindsight, of course, is often 20/20 and there's no way the Steelers can go back in time and redo their contract offers or fix their salary cap so that both Wallace and Brown could be on the roster.
However, it does appear that the Steelers may have made the wrong decision by not pressing the Wallace issue further and instead handing off the cash to Brown.
Presently, the Steelers sit at 0-2 with their offense to blame. They've not managed to run the ball for even 50 yards in either of their two losses, and with no receivers to stretch the field, both the short passing game that is Haley's calling card as well as the run game have suffered.
Part of this has to do with the injuries suffered by tight end Heath Miller (knee) and rookie running back Le'Veon Bell (foot).
With Miller out, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has tapped Cotchery as his go-to, over-the-middle receiver. And he's had to rely on him, and passing the ball in general, because there is no run game in sight.
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Brown may be frustrated by this because he's an asset in short-yardage situations and can use his speed to break away from defenders. However, at 5'10" and 186 pounds, he isn't very physical. Cotchery is—more so, at least than Brown—at 6'0" and 200 pounds.
With defenses fully aware that the Steelers are going to pass the ball, the offense must create mismatches where it can.
Brown is therefore better suited to be split outside, trying to evade coverage and then catch passes rather than fighting for them over the middle against linebackers and safeties.
Wallace has that ability to beat coverage, but he's also physical. These are two elements, in concert, that the Steelers lack from any of their receivers.
Unfortunately, they also lacked the foresight to see this when they so willfully stopped negotiating with Wallace last year.
Meanwhile, Wallace is doing well in Miami—albeit after complaints about the way he's been used.
He had only five targets and one catch in the season-opening win against the Cleveland Browns, but that increased to 11 targets and nine receptions in Week 2 against the Indianapolis Colts. He had 115 yards and a touchdown in that game.
Brown, too, has bested the 100-yard mark this year, but not in a single game. He doesn't have a touchdown either. His 11 catches are one better than Wallace in Miami whereas Wallace's 16 targets are one better than Brown's 15.
In terms of deep passes, those of 20 or more yards, Wallace has been thrown four thus far in Miami, while Brown has gotten three deep targets from Roethlisberger through two games. Each have caught one.
The two receivers are comparable numbers-wise right now, albeit with different teams and in different situations. Wallace, of course, is a true threat to defenses—coverages shift his way to account for wherever he is, or could be, on the field.
Even though he's a less dangerous receiver, the same can be said for Brown simply because he's the best option the Steelers have presently.
However, they aren't comparable receivers when it comes to their respective skill sets.
It makes sense that Brown is frustrated. This is the worst offense the Steelers have fielded in a long time and it has resulted in their first 0-2 start since 2002.
He clearly believes that, with more passes thrown his way, he can turn the team's fortunes around and he's not afraid to air this grievance to Haley both in public and private.
But this isn't any different from Wallace's demands in Pittsburgh before he left, nor the issues he had with the Dolphins' season opener. Sure, Brown costs less money than Wallace, but the headache Wallace would have caused—both on the sidelines versus Haley and on the salary cap—would have resulted in a better on-field payoff.
Do you think the Steelers made a mistake by not trying harder to keep Mike Wallace?
There are limitations to Brown's game that Wallace doesn't have. The Steelers could have found a way to offer Wallace more money, either through more roster cuts or contract restructuring.
If they are going to have a receiver complaining about targets, it may as well be one with Wallace's talents rather than Brown's.
This doesn't diminish the importance of Brown to the Steelers. Not before Wallace left, and not after. However, taking the Steelers' current offensive situation into account, it seems like the Steelers picked the wrong receiver to pay this year—especially if both are going to complain about the same things.
A high-impact receiver like Wallace could free up the field for passes of all depths and, most importantly, the run game.
Sadly, there are no time machines the Steelers' front office can take to change its choice. It'll need to make do with Brown and the rest of the team's offensive weaponry right now.
Brown isn't a bad receiver, by any means, but the Steelers could use Wallace more right now—complaints and all.
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