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With Peyton Manning and Mario Williams off the market, attention now turns to Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace.

To sign Wallace, a team must forfeit their first-round pick to Pittsburgh. The San Francisco 49ers have expressed interest, and why not? The chances of landing a player who’s equal to the caliber of the Ole Miss product with the 30th pick in the draft are slim.

There is, however, one major stumbling block preventing Wallace from donning the red and gold. A league source tells the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows that Wallace is looking for a contract that eclipses Larry Fitzgerald’s eight-year deal worth $120 million signed last year.

At first glance the Wallace camp’s demands seem ludicrous. While being saddled with inconsistent quarterbacking in recent years, Fitzgerald has maintained excellent production. That said, sometimes our eyes deceive us. Wallace is only 25 years old, and he’s been the key threat in a Steelers offense hampered by the often quasi-injured Ben Roethlisberger.

Let’s see how 24-year-old Wallace stacks up to Fitzgerald and other big play wide receivers when they were his age:

Player Targets Receptions Yards Yards/game TDs
Larry Fitzgerald (Age 24) 167 100 1409 93.9 10
Mike Wallace (Age 24) 102 60 1257 78.6 10
Calvin Johnson (Age 24) 136 67 984 70.3 5
Desean Jackson (Age 24) 96 47 1056 75.4 6

Kurt Warner clearly had a favorite target when he took over for the injured Matt Leinart in 2007. However, Wallace’s production with considerably fewer targets than Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson stands out. The average distance of Wallace’s ten touchdown receptions was a whopping 41.7 yards.

Next, let’s look at Wallace’s production last year:

Player Targets Receptions Yards Yards P/game TDs
Larry Fitzgerald (Age 25) 154 96 1431 89.4 12
Mike Wallace (Age 25) 114 72 1193 74.6 8
Calvin Johnson (Age 25) 137 77 1120 74.7 12
Desean Jackson (Age 25) 104 58 961 64.1 4

Again, Wallace wasn’t targeted as much as Fitzgerald or Johnson. Megatron’s relatively low number of receptions can be attributed to defensive schemes designed to double and sometimes triple cover the most imposing physical vertical threat in the game, and a general lack of talent in Detroit during the 2010 season. Wallace again showed his ability to make the big play, catching 63 percent of the balls thrown his way.

The outlier in this group, DeSean Jackson, is a popular comparable to Wallace. Jackson’s new deal, inked last week, pays him $47 million over five years, with $18 million guaranteed. Let’s be blunt. Wallace should get a better contract than Jackson. His play has surpassed the Eagles wideout and the numbers back that up.

Early in the 2011 season KC Joyner stated that Wallace was having a better year than Calvin Johnson. Joyner’s metrics rely heavily on production on a per play basis. He argued that Wallace did more on a per target basis than Johnson.

As Bleeding Green Nation points out, the more targets a receiver gets, the more defences shift their focus towards that player. Projecting how much a player would produce with more targets becomes a dicey exercise, as it fails to account for the adjustments made by the opposing team.

Wallace is aiming high with his contract demands. A little too high. If his camp refuses to budge from that eight year, $120 million number, he faces being tendered by the Steelers and almost certainly franchised in the 2013 offseason. By asking for less Wallace can seek more guaranteed money while securing his future financially. I can’t put him in the class of Fitzgerald and Johnson just yet, but ’60 minutes’ deserves to get paid.

By lowering his demands (maybe five years/$80 million, with $20 million guaranteed), he can do just that.