A year ago at this time the Miami Dolphins were the Super Bowl champions, though annoying little details based in reality and fact told us the Baltimore Ravens were the real champs. But after signing every known free agent the Fins won our hearts and minds, and seemingly made winning in the fall a mere matter of marching.
That ended in rivers and oceans of tears, and it left Mike Wallace as the shining beacon showing us what not to do during free agency. With rumors percolating yet again about a Wallace trade — one that’s impossible due to his mountainous contract — now seems like a fine time to reflect upon what we’ve learned about paying wide receivers with delightful abundance.
Mostly, just don’t do it.
Just as they did about a month ago, a report that the Dolphins are seeking to trade Wallace surfaced yesterday. And just as it was a month ago, the source for that report is Jason La Canfora.
Fins have renewed attempts to trade WR Mike Wallace during the league meetings. Teams doing homework on him. Contract makes it a tough trade
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 26, 2014
Indeed, Jason, his contract does make matters difficult. Some would say impossible.
As is well documented now in numerous other “WHY OH WHY?” pieces, the Dolphins made their most significant free agency splash last March when they gave Wallace a five-year contract worth $60 million, $30 million of which is guaranteed. For perspective on just how mammoth those numbers are, turn to this year’s free agent class at the position and compare just the guaranteed portion of Wallace’s contract to the total money given to Eric Decker. The New York Jets gave Decker $36.25 million, and on total salary Golden Tate was the second highest paid wideout this year at $31 million.
Its a passing league where teams do a lot of passing, games are won with passing, and everyone really loves them some passing. Gotcha, and to an extent the success of anyone who plays the core offensive skill positions is both system and personnel dependent. But that notion gets stretched further with a wide receiver who needs an offense catered to his specific skillset, a quality quarterback capable of executing a variety of throws, and an offensive line which allows him time to get deep.
Wallace doesn’t have any of those things in Miami. Well he might have one, but although Ryan Tannehill is improving it was difficult to make any serious judgement on him this past season when he was lying on his back 56 times, easily a league high. There’s now hope under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor after his success in Philadelphia with Nick Foles, but during his first season in Miami Wallace was a woefully poor fit in Mike Sherman’s west coast scheme that emphasized short, high percentage passes. And yeah, that whole blocking deal — or a lack of it — didn’t help either.
System, quarterback, and O-line. They’re three vital pillars for the success of any free agent wide receiver signing, and the absence of a quarterback once Michael Vick is inevitably injured could make the Decker signing a waste too. But at a far more reasonable $7.25 million annually, the Jets’ home run cut on him won’t be nearly as painful.
No, Wallace is still the union leader of money hogging tear inducers with his average yearly salary of $12 million. Worse is that after logging only 930 receiving yards in 2013 — which incredibly included nine games with 45 yards or less — he’s due $15 million this year, the number which makes him truly untradeable.
That upcoming 2014 base salary is the highest in the league, and it’s not even a little bit close. Here are the top five scheduled earners, according to Spotrac:
- Mike Wallace: $15 million
- Percy Harvin: $11 million
- DeSean Jackson: $10.5 million
- Vincent Jackson: $10 million
- Andre Johnson: $10 million
There’s a sizable divide between Wallace and the rest, one difficult to justify for anyone not named Calvin Johnson. The bottom three on that list earned their money with over 1,200 yards each in 2013.
At $17.3 million Wallace also carries the largest cap hit at his position next season, and excluding the injured Harvin he was one of only two others among the top 10 who didn’t reach at least 1,000 yards in 2013. Dwayne Bowe was comically overpaid too for his 673 yards, and he also suffered from an extremely poor fit with the near-sighted Andy Reid and Alex smith. He carries a cap hit of $12 million, which is hurtful, but unlike Wallace his base salary of $8.75 million is much more tolerable.
Wide receivers aren’t interchangeable in the same way that running backs are. But if the system in place doesn’t focus almost solely on them and optimize whatever it is they do well — as it does with Calvin Johnson and, say, Josh Gordon — then justifying consistently large money dumps is difficult. That’s partly the source of the DeSean Jackson trade speculation, with his $10.5 million in 2014 becoming a heavy burden with multiple other options signed now, and Darren Sproles aboard. And it’s why the upcoming season could be the equivalent of a contract year for Larry Fitzgerald as his cap hit in 2015 increases astronomically to $23.6 million for a then 32-year-old. As Michael Floyd emerges, the possibility Fitz could be a cap causality rises.
Many intricate pieces go into the success of a wide receiver, and they only control the route running and ball catching parts.