Since the first player valuation seemed to be well received I wanted to turn my attention (especially since I have a number of stats ready to go) to WR Mike Wallace of the Pittsburgh Steelers who is one of a number of wideouts that will be competing for top dollar in free agency. Unlike Dwayne Bowe in Kansas City there seems to be no door open to return to Pittsburgh, who not only have salary cap issues but also seemed fed up with Wallace’s late entry to camp as he refused to sign his restricted free agent tender. I also want to point out because I forgot in the last article that the raw data that I use to make these statistical comparisons come from our friends at Profootballfocus.com. The analysis and calculations are all my own, but the basic numbers come from them.
Here we have our initial look at Wallaces stats over the prior three seasons:
At first glance our clear warning sign comes from the 2012 season. Other than touchdowns Wallaces numbers fell badly, specifically his catch rate and average per catch. Now the Steelers had a number of changes that occurred with their offense this season so the next step is to dig in a little deeper and see if that played a role in Wallace’s decline this year.
The one point I will always make when discussing a wide receiver is that it may be the most dependent position in all of football and there is little that they can do one on one that makes a difference if the other 10 parts of the team are not doing their job. Whether it’s a QB getting them the ball on target or the line giving the WR enough time to get open, the Wide Receiver can not really make an impact on his own in any manner. This is why a player like Larry Fitzgerald has become a complete non-factor in Arizona or why Steve Smith was wasted in his prime years in Carolina. Keeping that in mine, I want to look at Wallace’s contribution to the Steelers wide receiver corps in games he played the last three seasons:
There are a few numbers in 2012 that concern me. The Steelers were actually utilizing him more within their passing scheme buy the receptions and yards did not increase by the same levels. His interception rate spiked. His catch rate fell dramatically as well this season. In 2009 and 2010 he caught more targets than his peers as a whole which is impressive because he was the deep guy on the team, and those are much lower percentage passes. Overall it makes me wonder if he spent the year sulking about his contract and that worries me when signing him as a free agent.
Similar to Bowe Wallace is probably going to look at Vincent Jackson and DeSean Jackson as comparison points. Most likely Bowe has two players in mind when looking for a new deal- Vincent Jackson and DeSean Jackson, who both signed new contracts in 2012. This time I want to include Santonio Holmes of the Jets in the discussion. The table below compares the 3 year averages of each player prior to their extension:
Overall the numbers do paint an interesting picture. In terms of durability he is the best of the bunch having missed 1 game in the last three season. Statistically he is nearly identical to Vincent Jackson and gives similar touchdown performance. In terms of utilization he doesn’t compare to either Bowe or Holmes. Unlike DeSean Jackson Wallace brings a more consistent catch rate into the picture and is more of a scoring threat. Based on these numbers I would say the first inclination would be to sign Wallace for the same contract as V. Jackson received with the Buccaneers. But let’s look further.
Number 1 or Not?
When you talk about committing $11 million a year to a wide receiver you are clearly making the leap of faith that this is the guy that can be your pure number 1 target and be the kind of player that really fixes your passing game. I would say the Miami Dolphins are clearly a team that would be interested in this type of potential as they saw what an impact V. Jackson had in Tampa Bay when he slotted into the number 1 position. This is where I get worried with Wallace. First lets compare him to what I consider the upper tier of the group, which is Bowe and V. Jackson. These numbers are three year averages of worth to the teams WR corps before they got the free agent dollars. In Jackson’s case it’s a two year look because he held out for almost all of 2010.
Outside of TD production there are clear differences between the two “upper bound” players and Wallace. That does not mean that Wallace can not be a number 1 target, but I think the numbers would say he really has yet to prove that he can do it. Bowe has been the primary threat in all facets for three years. Jackson was there for two of them. The only areas where Wallace competes are in touchdowns as he was the go to guy in Pittsburgh and in interceptions where targets intended for him were picked off far less than those against Jackson. Still the touchdowns are lower than the other two and the percentage of yards and targets is poor. So if I intend to sign Wallace for Jackson money and what I assume will be Bowe money I making a much riskier leap of faith than I did with those two players.
Now lets look at the “lower bound” market.
See now I find this set to be far more appropriate when putting a number on Wallace than the other grouping. These are the guys that probably should at least have raised a small red flag when giving them upper market money to be the number 1 player. In Holmes’ case he imploded when the offense was designed to run through him. The Eagles seemed to wisely continue their spread the ball system before Jackson got injured and we will likely get a better idea next year as to how Jackson fares if given more responsibility.
Here is the breakdown of the three player contracts:
3 Year Pay
As I discussed in my Bowe valuation I think that the discrepancy between the two Jackson contracts was tied mainly into the belief that one player was a safer bet to be a number 1 than the other. All things considered D. Jacksons’ and Holmes’ contracts are not much different despite the higher APY for Jackson. Jacksons’ realistic takehome over 3 years is only $1 million higher, representing about a 3.5% raise over Holmes’ contract which was frontloaded receiving over 61% in the first three years while Jackson only received 58.7%.
Those numbers to me are Wallace’s real market worth. There was very little if any statistical difference between Jackson and Holmes. Maybe a small difference based on total yards which was probably based as much on offensive philosophy as much as anything else. That slight difference in three year pay may just be the increase of the market as a whole due to the Fitzgerald contract extension in 2011. Calvin Johnson, who signed a day before DeSean Jackson, probably had little bearing on the contract and maybe raised the market slightly higher but likely not by much.
The Final Verdict
The lone selling point that I think Wallace has is that his TD ratios which are impressive compared to some other high end players. Outside of that I think many teams are going to hesitate on giving him top 3 or 4 WR money and will instead use the D. Jackson deal as a point of reference. I would personally peg his value as significantly less than that of Bowe and I don’t think I would offer much more than Jackson received. Maybe in the ballpark of 5 years at $49-49.5 million with $16 in firm guarantees and $29 million in the first three years.
Wallace supposedly turned down $10 million a season from the Steelers but in reality that was a generous offer unless it was completely backloaded. I think this is a situation where Wallace is banking on a desperate team with a lot of cap room throwing a ton of cash at him. If I had to venture a guess I would think their lowest price that they think is fair would be representative of the increase Jackson received over Holmes which would give Wallace $10.45 million a season with $30.7 million coming in the first three seasons.
That is highly overpaying for the risk involved and there is probably a good chance that Wallace is not going to be a build it around me player. I also think what works against Wallace is that this is a loaded free agent class of wide receivers. Besides Bowe there is Greg Jennings and you also have Wes Welker and RFA Victor Cruz as potential slot targets. While Wallace could end up being the guy who gets paid because the other teams missed out I doubt there is any one team that, at the start of free agency, feels he is the only free agent option on the market and thus they need to pay him highly. If you are a team that is going to go beyond $10 million a season just remember there is a clear “buyer beware” sign when you make that move.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.