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2 posts from March 6, 2013

March 06, 2013

Potential suitors for Wallace (of which he'll have several)

Everyone knows Mike Wallace is the No. 1 free agent wide receiver that will come available on March 12. And by know everyone also knows the Dolphins will make Wallace their top free agent priority starting March 9 when teams and agents can begin talking without concern about tampering issues. I feel like I've been saying that for months now.

I reported on Feb. 12 to anyone who would listen that Miami would speak to both Wallace and receiver Greg Jennings. Wallace is the priority and Jennings is among the fallback options.

But as none of these things is a secret, particularly the part about Wallace being the top available free agent receiver on the market, you should know that he'll have other suitors. There is no doubt about that.

First, it is his agent Bus Cook's job to get other teams interested in Wallace. And, as his illustrious history suggests, he will do his job well.

Second, Wallace is a rare combination of production, youth, and no character red flags in a league that values deep-threat and playmaking ability on offense secondly perhaps only to top-flight quarterback play.

So, again, there will be a market of multiple teams vying for Mike Wallace. (The Dolphins understand this and I suppose that's one reason they have a fallback plan in Jennings if Wallace lands elsewhere).

But where?

Indeed, the only team that has been publicly connected to Wallace is the Dolphins. I assume Dolphins staffers that read this blog regularly will cringe at that last line. The Dolphins don't love having their business plans known when no other team's plans are quite so public.

Well, allow me to remove the veil from some of the other teams that might be in on the Mike Wallace sweepstakes:

This list is taken in order of teams that could be mutually interested in and interesting to Wallace.

1. Indianapolis Colts: Surprised? You shouldn't be. The Colts had a fine passing game last year with the steady improvement of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and the sudden grasp at stardom by South Florida product T.Y. Hilton. Add to the that the veteran quality of Reggie Wayne and you have a solid core for a passing game. But ... Wayne is 34 and will be 35 in November. He's not going to play forever. And the Colts, while good at throwing the football, can certainly be better with a 27-year-old (in August) Wallace that would help make that passing offense formidable. By the way, the Dolphins are thrilled they will have approximately $36.5 million in cap space to pursue Wallace. It's the fourth most cap space in the NFL, not counting the likely re-signing of Brian Hartline. Well, Indianapolis has an estimated $43.5 million in cap space, which is the third most of any NFL team.

2. Seattle Seahawks: They surprised everyone because rookie quarterback Russell Wilson burst onto the scene and turned them into a playoff team. But it happened while the club had obvious need to improve on the outside as witnessed by the fact the offense was 27th in the NFL in passing. That's lower than the 26th-ranked Dolphins. I grant you, Sidney Rice is a good player and Golden Tate is improving. But Sidney Rice and Mike Wallace with Tate in the slot? Much better. The Seahawks don't have the same kind of cap space that either Miami or Indy do. They have approximately $17 million. But they have something that is invaluable: Moxie, aggressiveness and a belief that they must improve significantly to overtake the San Francisco 49ers.

3. Minnesota Vikings: The Dolphins privately see them as a significant threat. Their passing game is aching for a playmaker because Percy Harvin's status is uncertain and even with Harvin in the fold, the offense was pedestrian last year through the air, ranking 31st out of 32 teams. The problem for the Vikings, however, might not be their eagerness to get Wallace but rather Wallace's eagerness to go to Minny. Of the three teams I've already mentioned as possible suitors for Wallace, which has a worse quarterback situation than Minnesota? Answer: None. The Vikings' Christian Ponder is considered a solid game-manager. Yes, his stats were better than Ryan Tannehill's. But most NFL people would allow that Tannehill has better upside potential. The Vikings do have things in their favor, no doubt. They play on turf and indoors. They have a great, great player in Adrian Peterson and he can be used not only as an enticement but as a recruiter. And they did make the playoffs last season. But with $15 million of cap space today, are they one wide receiver away from being a Super Bowl contender? That's a question they will have address internally.

4. Houston Texans: Wallace would love to play there. It's closer to his home turf than most other teams. The Texans are clearly a very good team. Andre Johnson would be a great, great, great player to have in the same huddle. And the Texans need to upgrade at WR. But the problem is the Texans have constraints. They are only $7 million under the cap. They have other players such as Connor Barwin and Glover Quin that are free agents but they want back. It's a stretch -- a dangerous one for everyone else if the Texans pull the trigger.

5. New England Patriots: A Dolphins' fan nightmare, I know. The Patriots have great quarterback play, have great seam threats in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and they clearly need a deep threat because Gronkowski led the team with a 14.4 yard per catch average among players with more than 10 catches. The Patriots also have enough cap space with $25 million. They have the urgency with Tom Brady turning 36 in August, and they too have the moxie. Remember, this is the team that added Aqib Talib when no one else was really interested. This is the team that traded for Randy Moss in 2007. There is also little doubt they can pitch to Wallace that he'll be close to playing for a Super Bowl ring every year he's on the team -- something most of the other teams can say, but probably not as believably. Still, adding a super high-priced player while other players, including Wes Welker and Sebastian Vollmer, are unsigned would be a major gamble. The Patriots might decide picking Tavon Austin at the bottom of the first round might be a more cost-effective move.

6. Cincinnati: The Bengals have been to the playoffs the past two seasons and gone one-and-done. The reason is clearly that quarterback Andy Dalton is solid but not great. He's not elite. So how does one upgrade the passing game that already has outstanding wide receiver A.J. Green? I suppose you can add Wallace and turn this into the most dangerous receiver duo in the NFL. Sounds good, right? Meh. The Bengals have players they need to lock up in free agency including offensive tackle Andre Smith and linebacker Rey Maualuga. Still, the Bengals have the second-most cap space of any NFL team with $45.2 million. So they can try for Wallace. If they wish.

7. Cleveland: They have $46.6 million in cap space, which is the most in the NFL. They have a great need for a playmaker. I suppose they have a desire to stick it to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, for which Wallace has played. But ... They don't have a quarterback. They don't have any sort of organizational stability, as they just hired a new coach and general manager (again). And they don't have a prayer unless they intend to vastly overpay.

Sleeper? San Diego has only $7 million in cap space and seems to be in rebuild mode with a new coach and general manager. But the Chargers have Phillip Rivers and a need to reverse the trend of steadily losing talent, particularly of the playmaking variety on offense.

The scramble begins March 9. 

Polian on Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings

Former four-time NFL Executive of the Year Bill Polian got on a conference with the media this week and the ESPN analyst gave his opinion about varying issues regarding free agency and the draft.

One point he made is that when he was with the Colts, the team studied the success rate of free agency and came away with the idea that 50 percent of free agents are successes and, obviously, 50 percent do not succeed with their new teams.

Polian has no idea which player will fall into what specific category but he judging by what he said about receiver Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings, one gets the feeling he likes the Pittsburgh player over the Green Bay veteran.

"The question of Wallace is that he is the guy who meets all of the parameters that you'd like," Polian said. "He is productive. He has great speed, which is always something that is desirable in a receiver.  He falls within the reasonable age parameters and he hasn't had a high history of injury.

"When you look at all of the things that you use to try to decide whether or not you want to pursue a player, he checks every box with few question marks. There was some issue as to how effective his hands were this year. I don't think it was a major issue, so there you have it. We'll see where the market goes. He's not 6'2" and 220 pounds, so that may be a consideration for some teams.

"But, in terms of the red flags that would cause you to turn away, he doesn't have many.  He's a guy that most people will feel is pretty desirable but, again only the market will tell. This is in many ways like an IPO. There is a lot of discussion, there is a lot of analysis, but only the market will tell you whether it's going to go or not."

And Jennings? Is he worth the $10 million per season he is reportedly shooting for in free agency? And is he even a No. 1 receiver anymore?

"Well, worth is in the eye of the beholder," Polian said. "He's got two things that sort of mitigate against a huge contract:  One is an injury history and the other is that he's 30 years of age and relief receivers, and I would categorize him as one, tend to begin to turn down at about 33 or 34.

"So, how long a contract do you give him, and what is his potential to continue to play at a high level, given the injury and age history?  Each individual club has its own individual metrics that would tell them that, and so I think that that's where it's going to go. I'm as anxious as you are to see who may step up for him.

"But there are two concerns.  There are clubs, we were one of them, that said if a guy's 27 years of age or above, we're probably not going to go for a long-term deal at big money. But if you feel you're one quality receiver away and the physical exam turns out to be okay, you might do it.  Again, that is what makes free agency interesting."