Mike Wallace was supposed to be able to go deep.
Instead, at the end of two straight NFL seasons, he’s proven to be synonymous with shallow.
Wallace on Tuesday took an eraser to the only nice things you could say about his year with the Vikings.
After fleecing the Vikings of $11 million in 2015, Wallace on Tuesday signed with the Ravens, then insulted Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Asked why he signed with the Ravens, Wallace told reporters in Baltimore: “That was the main situation for me — the quarterbacks. Ultimately, I wanted to get back to what I do, and that’s stretching the field and making some plays. I just wanted to be with a good quarterback, and [we have] a Super Bowl-winning quarterback right here, so you can’t beat that.’’
Wallace also said: “I was like, ‘I need a good quarterback. I need a quarterback who I know is proven and can get things done.’ ’’
Tuesday, Minnesotans for the first time saw why the Dolphins were eager to trade him.
Wallace is emblematic of diva receivers, the majority of high-priced NFL free agents, the gaps in advanced analytics and the lure of the big play.
Ben Roethlisberger helped make Wallace a star in Pittsburgh. In Wallace’s second and third seasons in the NFL, he built the reputation that would make him big money. In 2010 he caught 60 passes for 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns for 21.0 yards per catch. Those are impressive numbers. He hasn’t matched them since.
In 2011 he was productive, with 72 catches for 1,193 yards, but his yards per catch fell to 16.6. He has not surpassed 1,000 yards since. His yards per catch has fallen from 21.0 to 16.6, 13.1, 12.7, up slightly to 12.9 and, in his one season with the Vikings, down to 12.1.
There were signs of decline in his last season in Pittsburgh, yet the perpetually generous Dolphins signed him to a five-year contract worth an estimated $60 million. In two seasons in Miami, he failed to surpass 1,000 yards.
This could be blamed on Ryan Tannehill or the Dolphins’ dysfunction, but last year Miami’s Jarvis Landry posted 1,157 receiving yards and two part-time receivers, Rishard Matthews and Kenny Stills, gained more than 15 yards a catch.
After Wallace reportedly refused to take the field in the Dolphins’ finale in 2014, they traded him to the Vikings. In 2015, he produced 473 yards, far less than rookie Stefon Diggs, and less even than tight end Kyle Rudolph. Wallace’s longest catch went for 34 yards.
He proved the riskiness of paying big money to an older, declining receiver. At the heart of his problems was his inability to connect with Bridgewater on long passes.
Pro Football Focus credits Wallace with a career-low 11 deep targets (long passes thrown to Wallace), two catches for 56 yards and, most interestingly, zero drops.
Those statistics indicate that Wallace is right — he performed poorly because Bridgewater didn’t throw enough deep passes, or throw with accuracy.
Here’s where analytics can be dangerous: Wallace appeared to give up on a long pass in Chicago, and later said he couldn’t see it because of the sun. He appeared to be only slightly overthrown a handful of times, but never dived for a pass. It’s impossible to know with certainty whether Wallace could have, with more shade and effort, caught a few of those passes.
Until Tuesday, it would have been easy to give Wallace the benefit of the doubt. He spent a lot of time working on skills after practices. He was praised by his fellow receivers.
Now he’s blaming his failures on Bridgewater, who makes an easy target because he has yet to prove he is an accurate deep passer in the NFL.
Wallace can get away with insulting Bridgewater today in most NFL cities, but the suspicion here is that a year from now the Ravens will be wishing they could trade Wallace, and won’t be finding any takers.