April 23, 2014

Mike Wallace should give the Browns pause

Josh GordonMike Wallace would walk into Berea today and be the very best wide receiver Cleveland has had since 1999. There’s just no two ways about it. Josh Gordon has potential and with all due respect to Kevin Johnson who spent most of his career running routes for quarterbacks lying flat on their backs, Mike Wallace would be the best. That being the case and knowing how much money the Browns have available on the salary cap, shouldn’t they just outbid the market for Mike Wallace? You would think that would be an obvious answer for me, but there’s just something about the whole wide receiver situation and Mike Wallace in free agency that gives me serious pause.

For starters, I don’t think Mike Wallace is in the same class as the very best wide receivers in the NFL. He ranked 34th in yards in 2012 and even though that’s clearly a facile way to judge receivers, that’s not it. Wallace is an explosive guy who scores touchdowns. His long play for the year was 82 yards. To think of having anyone on the Browns would could go 82 yards in one play as opposed to doing it over the course of 10 plays and many minutes is pretty crazy. Still, I don’t think Mike Wallace is in the same class as Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, or Julio Jones.

Josh Gordon has a ways to go before he’s on Mike Wallace’s level, but he did have a 71-yard reception this season for the Browns. He also had 50 catches and only about 30 fewer yards receiving than Wallace. On top of that, Josh Gordon is three inches taller than Wallace and actually catches the football with his hands and sometimes even at the highest point. Mike Wallace is a guy who catches with his body a lot of the time. Another risk factor with Mike Wallace is that he’s a speed guy. Ask Josh Cribbs what it’s like to age gracefully in the NFL as someone who relies on speed. Is that the kind of risk you want to take paying over $10 million per year on average?

Again though, Mike Wallace walks into Berea tomorrow as the best wide receiver the Browns have had since 1999. And yet, I’m still not excited about it.

Maybe it’s because Mike Wallace held out last year. I don’t blame Mike Wallace for wanting to get an extension done rather than play for the $2.7 million he made last year with the Steelers. At times in a league where players can be cut at any time, holdouts make tons of sense for players who so drastically outperform their deals. Antonio Gates is an example I frequently use for a guy who can’t afford to step on the field without a new deal the way he did some years back. Still, there’s something about Wallace holding out and then not living up to his breakout years – even if that’s not a totally fair assessment – that bothers me. I’m just concerned that a fast guy who played for a very good team who might be playing to the day he signs the big contract might not have the motivation to continue playing that way.

One of the things I heard from Bill Polian at the MIT Sloan conference was that any NFL team needs to build a core of 12-15 players and then build the team outward from there. The more of those 12-15 players that come from the draft, the better you will be from a cap perspective. Judging by the projected amount of money that Mike Wallace will make this off-season at somewhere north of $10 million per year, he would instantly be slotted into that core group of Browns players. He also would be one of the top paid guys in that group, and instantly one of the least efficiently acquired.

If you take a guy like Joe Thomas who has been on the team and you know intimately before giving him an extension, it should drastically reduce your bust risk. You can scout a guy and get to know him all you want in free agency, but it will never be like extending a player from within. This is why you see new regimes lean on their former players when they come into a new situation. Isn’t it telling that the team that knows Mike Wallace the best out of any other is pretty content to see him leave? There are certainly cap issues too, but you get the feeling that’s not what the Steelers are really saying.

So we’ll see soon, I guess. It seems so strange to look at the very best wide receiver on the market, combine that with the huge amount of cap space the Browns have, and yet still not look forward to them signing him. That’s just my feeling right now though.

You?

Image via Jon Cole/WFNY 

  • Jay

    I agree. At first glance, it would be amazing for the Browns to sign Wallace. But after letting it all sink in, plus what it would cost us (Two 1st rounders I believe. Please correct me if I’m wrong.) it just doesn’t make sense for the organization. I’m a fan of Josh Gordon & hope both he & Greg Little have break-out type years this coming season. I’m not opposed to a WR in free agency, I just think Wallace is too high risk.

  • Jarrod

    He is unrestricted so he only costs cap space

  • dan

    I’m of two minds on this. In general, I like to find stars in the draft and use free agency to plug holes. On the other hand, the Browns haven’t been finding stars in the draft….

    This year’s group of first time free agents were drafted in 2009 — the Kokinis draft. And that’s why the Browns are looking to free agency. It’s amazing to think that the Browns could have drafted Wallace instead of Robiske and Kruger instead of Veikune. And if they had done do, the Browns would be spending money to resign their own players and laughing at the teams who are using free agency.

    I still would rather have two or three unspectacular free agents for the same money Wallace would cost, but there’s an argument the other way. After all, at some point, a good team needs good players. You have to get the somewhere.

  • Jay

    Thank you. I don’t know what I was thinking about. Yeah I do. Was it the potential signing of Joe Flacco? Sheesh, I need a nap….

  • Harv 21

    It’s true, the teams with the AJ Greens, Calvin Johnsons, and Larry Fitzgeralds don’t let them hit the market, but that’s been the case at every position since Reggie White went to GB. The question is: what’s his worth to your team? Just his field-stretching could morph everything in a Norv offense, open the field for the QB’s sightlines, put Gordon in constant single coverage and pull the safeties away from Trent and anyone in the flat.

    I agree his classic peacock wideout attitude is troubling (no one’s yet over their post-Braylon traumatic disorder), and the last thing Gordon and Little need is a bad influence in team meetings, preparation and attitude. As I said on a different thread, I kind of trust Norv here to figure out how important Wallace might be, and Banner to contemplate how much is too much, whether against the cap or in inflating the contract expectations of teammates.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    There may have been bigger busts in the history of the team, but the entire Robiskie experiment was such a head scratcher (the fact that they drafted him AT ALL, the draft position, the length of time they stuck with him, etc.). I have a bald spot on the right side of my head that’s named after him.

    It stands as one of the Brownsiest mistakes of all time, because it was all self-inflicted.

  • MrCleaveland

    I’m with you, Craig. You cannot give big bucks to guys with attitude issues. It seems to bite teams all the time.

    And you can’t count on guys who sulk and quit. For the kind of money we’re talking about here, I want a guy who busts it all the time.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    I like the idea of stretching the field with his speed, but I also think that if you pay someone that kind of money, he better be able to fight for passes in traffic and make the acrobatic catch. I love Anquan Boldin’s skill set for just that reason.

    I just don’t see Wallace as the same type of receiver as a Fitzgerald, Johnson or AJ Green.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    The sulking and quitting is especially troublesome when the player in question only directly gets involved in 8 to 10 plays on a GREAT day.

  • saggy

    I like the idea of Wallace, but not sold on him in the flesh.

    But I am not really worried about his attitude. the Browns have drafted more than a couple of “attitude” players recently, and we have improved. I’d rather have 22 jerks who can play, than 22 saints who stink. This guy can play.

    Any time $ is involved in the NFL I side with the players. Especially now that all this Post-traumatic stress stuff has arisen. It’s no small issue to guys who have a clearly limited earning window, so attitude SHOULD be expected. It’s how he comes back this year from that debacle that matters – and that’s the pause you’re talking about.

    tough call.

  • TSR3000

    I think we do need another WR but I think WR should be about priority #5. Let’s spend our money on LBs, DEs, CBs and OGs.

  • saggy

    not challenging you but asking: how did you count that 8-10 plays? Is it targets? Does it involve running plays and blocking assignments? and why would that be a “GREAT” day?

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.sladoje Chris Sladoje

    Reports are that the Miami Dolphins and Wallace have a done deal, just waiting for free agency to begin.

  • mgbode

    the fact that he was the starting WR week1 and cut (was it week4?) had all the makings of the Charlie Frye tenure.

  • mgbode

    the Steelers elected to give Antoinio Brown $8mil/season just to spite Mike Wallace who now may convince the Dolphins to give him Vincent Jackson money.

  • mgbode

    just noting that Vincent Jackson hit the FA market. He may not quite be in that class of WRs, but he’s close (as TB and SD found out).

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I’d rather go after Percy Harvin, who is a much better WR and would fit nicely within Gordon and Little. Get Harvin and some of the defensive players (Avril, Ollerbe, Lewis, Jones) and suddenly the Browns look like a contender.

  • john

    Agree mostly. good comment. I would go LB, OG, CB and then DE (assuming you were suggesting your priority).

  • C-Bus Kevin

    By directly involved, I meant catches. 8 to 10 catches in an afternoon would be great for any receiver, no?

  • mgbode

    except Seattle just gave up the #25 pick (plus more) for Harvin.

    oh, and I expect the Vikings to use #25 on Tavon Austin: he doesn’t get migraines or cause them for his coaches.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Baltimore traded Boldin to San Francisco too.

  • mgbode

    for a 6th round pick! that’s crazy.

    our small CBs don’t scare me as much now. BRING ON CAPTAIN MUNNERLYN!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I guess Ozzie didn’t want to just release him and risk having to face him especially if it may have been a division rival. I’m still hoping for a new CB opposite Haden.

  • steve-o

    I’d love to have a guy with Wallace’s talent on this team, but to get him we’d have to pay more than he’s worth. If we were in position to win now, I’d say do it anyway, but that’s not the case.