Try as general manager Dennis Hickey might to evade and say nothing and give no clues that there is an issue between the Miami Dolphins and Mike Wallace, it is clear there is indeed an issue.
Up to now I've been thinking the issue is as simple as either cutting or not cutting Wallace following two seasons in which he has definitely not met the expectations of a $12 million-a-year contract and last year caused coaches headaches with his complaining about how often he got the ball.
Well, it may be more complicated than that.
It seems the Dolphins are trying to rehabilitate the situation rather than simply cut ties with Wallace. Otherwise what would be the need for Hickey to sit down for dinner with Wallace? Otherwise what would be the need to have some long, drawn out "process" of figuring out what to do next?
Yet, that is what has been happening.
“Well obviously, through our process we’re looking at each individual situation and with all of our players," Hickey evaded when asked about Wallace. "Obviously in the salary cap era you always have challenging decisions you have to make each year. So we’re going through that process and we’re further along in the process than we were let’s say a month ago when we talked at the Senior Bowl. We’re still working on it and we judge each player, each decision on the individual basis. And the goal is to make the best decision for the Miami Dolphins."
Working on what? Further along in what?
If the Dolphins were simply going to cut Wallace, that move doesn't need to be considered for a month and, indeed, nearly two months since the season ended (for Miami) with Wallace on the bench that final game.
Even the Dolphins, with their multiple layers of leadership and the organizational flow chart from the bowels of the earth, should be able to come to a decision on the team's highest priced player quicker than that.
Nope, this is more complex than that.
I believe this is about, well, money. Isn't it always? I believe the Dolphins are trying to figure out a way to cut Wallace's salary. I believe the Dolphins are trying to find ways to make it acceptable to the Wallace camp. I believe the Dolphins want to pay Wallace to his performance level rather than his potential performance level, which is what they paid for when they signed him as a free agent in 2013.
The Dolphins made Wallace the highest-paid wide receiver in '13. He is now the NFL's fourth-highest paid wide receiver.
Has he delivered on that status?
Well, has he made the Pro Bowl?
Has he had a 1,000-yard season?
Has he consistently blown the top off the defense as was his imagined assignment when he signed?
No, although I blame quarterback Ryan Tannehill and not Wallace for this issue. Wallace has consistently gotten open deep.
The point is Mike Wallace caught 67 passes for 862 yards and 10 TDs last season. The 67 catches tied him for 39th in the NFL. His 862 yards tied him for 37th. The 10 TDs tied him for 12th with four others.
The point is Wallace wasn't Top 5 in anything except his salary.
And so it makes sense that the Dolphins would want to adjust that salary down as surely as they might want to adjust the salaries of other players -- Randy Starks, Brian Hartline, Dannell Ellerbe, Brandon Gibson, etc. -- that for whatever reasons were unable to deliver to expectations.
A salary cut makes sense for Wallace because cutting him outright, even after June 1, saves $6.9 million against the cap, but leaves a honkin' $5 million in dead money on the books this year and $4.4 million next year. It also deletes 10 TDs and a threat of a deep ball from the team.
Trading Wallace is practically impossible because I don't know of any team that would gladly absorb that toxic contract.
So all this processing that mends fences with Wallace also has to benefit the team and the biggest benefit the Dolphins should be aiming for is cutting his salary and cap numbers. This year Wallace is scheduled to count $12.1 million against the cap.
Tom Brady, a franchise-defining, Super Bowl winning, MVP QB, is costing the rival New England Patriots $14 million against the cap. WR Antonio Brown, who led the NFL with 129 receptions and 1,698 yards -- he also had 13 TDs -- is costing the Pittsburgh Steelers $9.78 million against the cap in 2015.
The Dolphins are overpaying right now for Mike Wallace.
And so if they're not trying to restructure his contract and, yes, cut his salary, something is amiss.
“I had a good conversation," Hickey evaded about his talk with Wallace. "Again, we have open lines of communication. I always feel like we have an open door for all of our players and whether it be from the coaching staff, myself, always keeping that open line of communication.
"You know, for all of us as the season unfolded and late in the year, we’re all frustrated about how the season ended. That’s where we’re focused on now, addressing, confronting the reality of where we’re at and how do we get to where we want to be? That’s what we spent the last five or six weeks looking at hard, in talking through and working together in a collaborative fashion to try to work through that. Because the goal is to be better."