Miami Dolphins 2013 Free Agency: The Merits of Signing Mike Wallace

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 23:  Mike Wallace #17 of the Pittsburgh Steelers catch make a first quarter catch next to Terence Newman #23 of the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field on December 23, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

To sign Mike Wallace, or not to sign Mike Wallace? That is the $60 million question.

The top of the wide receiver market includes three players: Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and Greg Jennings. Wes Welker will, perhaps, join that list if the Patriots let him go.

Chatter is increasing that Bowe could be back with the Chiefs, and Welker should do the same in New England. Jennings is not quite at the level as the others.

That leaves Wallace as the premiere receiver on the market. But would signing Wallace to a hefty contract be wise?

It is easy to forget that, just one year ago, Brandon Marshall was still a Miami Dolphin. He might have had some big drops, but Marshall was by far the best receiver Miami had on its roster in years. He was embroiled in yet another off-field imbroglio with his wife, however, which turned out to be the straw that broke Jeff Ireland's back.

Ireland traded Marshall away for two third-round picks and a ham sandwich, and Marshall went on to have one of the best seasons of any wide receiver in the history of the Bears

The Dolphins, meanwhile, were left with a dearth of playmaking talent at the position. Brian Hartline stepped up and surpassed 1,000 yards receiving, but he caught just one touchdown. Ireland's idea to bolster the position was to sign Legedu Naanee and take receivers in the sixth and seventh rounds of last year's draft.

The result was frightening. Dolphins receivers caught a total of three passes of 40-plus yards, the lowest total in the league, and no receiver caught more than one touchdown pass. Ireland seems to have learned his lesson (via Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel):

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"I think this is the year that you've got to do something," General Manager Jeff Ireland said. "We're looking for playmakers on offense."

Multiple sources tell the Sun-Sentinel Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, who won't be given the franchise tag by the Steelers this offseason, is the team's top target.

An anemic offense quickly leads to desperation among the team's fans. Indeed, the fanbase is clamoring for Ireland to spend big chunks of the massive cap space he has amassed to address the situation at receiver.

The question remains, is $12 million or so per season worth it for Mike Wallace?

For perspective, Ireland signed Marshall signed a five-year, $47.3 million contract after trading two second-round picks for him. The Buccaneers gave Vincent Jackson a five-year, $55.5 million contract last offseason.

Of course, the dollars are never the same from season-to-season. Wallace might command $60 million because of today's market, but it doesn't necessarily mean he is better than some of these guys.

Even so, that is a lot of cheddar to bake into a team's cap space. 

Numbers Never Lie

Wallace scored eight touchdowns last season. That is eight times as many as any Dolphins wide receiver, a depressing reality for fans of the marine mammals. 

But Wallace was also rated 91st overall at wide receiver at Pro Football Focus, 73rd in the passing game.

The speedy receiver is known as a deep threat, but his average of 13.1 yards per catch was eclipsed by Hartline's 14.2. Davone Bess wasn't far behind at 12.8 either.

Wallace was 75th in the league with a 55.2 percent catch rate on balls thrown his direction. He was 45th in averaging 4.4 yards after catch per reception.

Numbers are certainly just one part of the picture.  One season does not make a career, and it paints an unfair picture for Mike Wallace. But if you look at Wallace over the past three seasons, you will note his numbers have generally declined in each of them. 

Of course, context is key.

The four-year veteran was disgruntled heading into the 2012 season because of the franchise tender he was eventually forced to sign, and the Pittsburgh offense wasn't nearly as good as it was in seasons past. It didn't help that Ben Roethlisberger missed eight games over the past two seasons either.

Stats are for Losers

Numbers aside, what does Wallace bring to the offense? One word comes to mind: speed.

Jeff Ireland has made it known that he would like to get faster. Mike Wallace is fast. It's a match made in heaven, right?

I would have interest in WR Mike Wallace because of his deep ball speed + big play capability. That impacts defensive game plans.

— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 20, 2013

Edmund Gates was also fast. Granted, there were plenty of things he couldn't do, which is why he was cut just one season after being drafted in the fourth round.

It is an entirely unfair comparison, but Wallace isn't exactly a polished route-runner himself. This is a receiver that head coach Mike Tomlin once called a "one-trick pony." That is no longer an accurate characterization of his skills, but has Wallace evolved into a No. 1 worthy of one of the top contracts at the position?

Is he worth signing for a team desperate for playmakers at the wide receiver position? Absolutely. But is he worth the potential $60 million price tag?

These are plenty of important questions for a guy about to get paid big money.

Wallace is quite comparable to Desean Jackson, a speed receiver who signed a five-year, $47 million contract last offseason. Jackson, whom many thought was declining before he signed that big deal, caught 45 passes for 700 yards and two touchdowns last season.

The Eagles were a dysfunctional franchise the past couple of years—any player evaluations must be taken with a grain of salt as a result—but thus far it doesn't seem like that was a worthwhile contract.

Wallace rejected a five-year, $50 million deal from the Steelers. Rather than pay a receiver they knew rather well $60 million, they chose to extend Antonio Brown. Even if Wallace's ultimate price tag falls somewhere between the Jackson brothers—Desean and Vincent, and they are not actually brothers—his impact will come from his speed.

Speed fades. When it does for Wallace, what will be left?

The Alternatives

The Dolphins certainly have a demonstrable need at wide receiver thanks to some dubious decisions, but there is no need to compound one mistake with another. 

Meanwhile, Greg Jennings has expressed his interest in signing with the Dolphins. 

While he is a bit older, slower and more injury prone, Jennings' price tag will surely be far less than Wallace's. He is a smart receiver, an excellent route-runner with soft hands and he has a rapport with Joe Philbin. (Though, in fairness, his numbers have declined over the past three seasons while playing in a great offense.)

Signing Jennings to a more reasonable deal while re-signing Hartline and drafting another receiver or two might not sound as sexy as making a huge free-agent splash with Mike Wallace, but it seems like a prudent course of action.

Of course, prudence could lead to a full-scale revolt among the Dolphins faithful. Jeff Ireland didn't save up all that cap space to let it go unused, and Wallace is very much on his radar.

If Miami whiffs on Wallace and Jennings, the draft is rife with talent at wide receiver. While getting a proven veteran trumps the uncertainty of rookies, there are plenty of playmakers to be had in April. 

Having all that space shouldn't mean reckless spending, but it does give Ireland some leeway to overspend to sate the need for speed. Just don't expect Wallace to be another Brandon Marshall, or even Vincent Jackson, if he lands in Miami Gardens.

Ireland must operate with a sense of urgency this offseason—his job is dependent on it—but urgency should not be desperation.