After failed stints with the Miami Dolphins and the Minnesota Vikings, wide receiver Mike Wallace might have finally landed in the right place to take advantage of his skills—or skill, in this particular case.
Simply put: Wallace has speed to burn.
The Baltimore Ravens apparently value what he can do within their offense and agreed to a deal Tuesday with the 29-year-old wide receiver, per ESPN's Adam Schefter:
With the acquisition, the Ravens have a new deep threat on the roster. After losing Torrey Smith a year ago in free agency, general manager Ozzie Newsome never truly found his replacement. The seven-year veteran will serve as insurance for the organization and its offense.
Wallace's presence provides three highly valuable additions to the Ravens roster:
- System fit
The wide receiver originally burst onto the scene with the rival Pittsburgh Steelers after being a third-round pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Prior to being selected 84th overall, the Ole Miss product blazed a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
His speed quickly became a weapon for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
As a rookie, Wallace caught 39 passes and averaged a league-leading 19.4 yards per catch. He only got better over the next two seasons.
During the 2010 and 2011 campaigns, the Steelers receiver caught 132 passes for 2,450 yards and 18 touchdowns. He stumbled a bit during the 2012 campaign, but he had already established his value around the league.
He parlayed his success in the Steel City into a five-year, $60 million contract with the Miami Dolphins during the 2013 offseason.
Wallace's career trajectory took an abrupt turn at this point. It's often said that speed kills, but this hasn't been the case for the receiver over the past three seasons.
In Miami, Wallace never experienced quite the same amount of success as the Dolphins' supposed No. 1 target. His game never fully developed, and personality clashes arose that culminated in a Week 17 sideline spat with then-head coach Joe Philbin that may or may not have forced the organization's hand.
During his time on South Beach, Wallace caught 140 passes for 1,792 yards. On the plus side, the speedy target snagged 10 touchdowns in 2014.
But the Dolphins saw enough after two seasons and traded him to the Minnesota Vikings.
Wallace experienced even less success with the Vikings. In his lone season playing for the NFC North franchise, the New Orleans native tied a career low with only 39 receptions and set new lows with 473 receiving yards and two touchdown catches.
The receiver "expressed private frustrations about his role in the offense," according to ESPN.com's Ben Goessling. Instead of trying to expand his role this fall, Minnesota released him and saved $11.5 million in cap space.
Baltimore is certainly and quite literally banking on the fact Wallace never played alongside a good deep-ball thrower in Miami or Minneapolis. Ryan Tannehill and Teddy Bridgewater aren't considered accurate passers when asked to stretch the field vertically, as CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora noted:
In essence, Wallace's game was neutered due to the limitations of quarterbacks.
Wide receivers who can open up the field with their speed hold high value around the league, as Wallace's earlier contract with the Dolphins demonstrates.
These targets force defenses to account for their presence—even when the ball isn't being thrown in their direction—instead of squeezing the field to limit options.
Upon signing with Baltimore, the Ravens' latest addition discussed his excitement to play alongside Joe Flacco, per the team's official site:
Wallace won't have the same problems he experienced the last three seasons with the Ravens. Flacco is one of the game's best deep-ball throwers, according to Pro Football Focus. As such, Wallace is an ideal fit in the offense, especially since he won't be considered the No. 1 target.
However, Wallace might have to serve as the primary pass-catcher depending on the team's overall situation at wide receiver, which makes the signing even more important.
Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. is still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. He played well last year at 36 years old, but Father Time is eventually going to catch up with him. When it does, the Ravens won't be completely bereft of talent at the position thanks to the addition of Wallace.
The newly signed veteran also serves as a contingency plan for last year's first-round pick, Breshad Perriman. WSNT AM 1570 in Baltimore brought up a fantastic point about the dynamics between Wallace and Perriman:
Newsome used a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft to select Perriman in an attempt to address the team's wide receiver issues. The UCF product never played a down during his rookie campaign due to a lingering knee injury.
No one outside of the Ravens organization knows exactly where the young receiver stands in regard to his rehabilitation. Like Wallace, Perriman's game is built around his sub-4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash. If he's on the field, he will likely serve as the No. 2 option opposite Smith, but nothing is guaranteed after his lost rookie year.
Even if Wallace never returns to form, acquiring his services was a shrewd move by the Ravens. Newsome effectively hedged his bets in multiple areas by signing this castoff.
In the end, can Wallace resurrect his career in Baltimore?
Absolutely, but expectations are all relative based on the areas within the Ravens offense where he can contribute.