One of the biggest criticisms about Mike Wallace when he was set to hit the free agent market in 2013 was that he was a selfish player and a diva. He was one who cared more about his individual goals rather than the team. However, Wallace went to the media and tried to rehab his image before free agency hit. Fortunately, for him, former Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland was sitting there ready to throw all the money in the world at him. Wallace didn’t walk away from it and within days of free agency opening, Wallace was headed to Miami as the next member of the Dolphins.
However, his time with the Dolphins has been rocky and tumultuous. While we haven’t seen much of his public frustration over the past two seasons, it all came to a boil in the season finale against the New York Jets just a few weeks ago. Should we have been surprised by this behavior though? Should the Dolphins have been surprised with this behavior? History and his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers tell us no and if the Dolphins did their due diligence before they signed him, they shouldn't be surprised one bit either..
There are so many examples and so many similarities to what is going on in Miami compared to what was going on in Pittsburgh in Wallace’s last season as a member of the team. In fact, the similarities are overwhelming and there’s not much for me to do except to list all the comparisons here and let you be the judge and the jury.
"It's not like I lose focus on the games or [lose] sight of what's going on. I might have shouldn't have said that. It was taken the whole wrong way, how I said it,” Wallace said. "When you're not getting the ball in the game, sometimes you get a little frustrated and you kind of lose focus in the game, not on the game, but, sometimes, you get mentally not focused on the things that you need to always be focused on.
One may think that this quote was given following the game against the New York Jets. It wasn’t. In fact, it was given to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 13, 2012. Now, let’s take a look at what actually happened a few weeks ago against the Jets. On January 11, 2014, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald wrote the following:
“The issue gets tricky with Wallace because making a decision on him is not soley a cap issue. As I and the NFL Network reported weeks ago, Wallace told his position coach and later repeated to his head coach that if he wasn't getting the football thrown to him, there was no need for him to play just prior to halftime of the season-finale against the New York Jets. This according to multiple team sources. Wallace has denied this.”
Salguero also said that Wallace did the same thing against the New England Patriots in their 41-13 loss against them but the game against the Jets was the first time Tannehill confronted him about the situation and told the wide receivers coach that he didn’t want Wallace playing anymore if he was going to act like that.
Brandon Gibson came out and told Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post that Wallace was frustrated in the Jets game because he wasn’t being targeted. In an article published on December 29, 2014, this quote was printed.
“I’m not here to talk about how many times he gets thrown at, what happens here,” Gibson said. “There’s times guys get frustrated and they want to be more involved. You want to do what’s best for the team. I understand his level of frustration but at the end of the day it’s team first. He may not have had the best team thoughts at one point.”
Sound familiar? In Pittsburgh, he said that when he isn’t getting the ball in the game, he loses focus and can’t always zone in on what needs to be happening on the field. In Miami, he said that if he wasn’t getting the ball in the game, he didn’t want to play.
Let’s look at another similarity in behavior issues. At the time the article was written in the Post-Gazette, Wallace had 59 receptions for 728 yards. He had also been targeted for passes 104 times, which was the highest amount in his career through 13 games. In 2014, Wallace had 67 receptions for 862 yards along with 115 targets, which was the third most in his career. He had ten touchdowns in 2014, which was tied for the highest in his career in a single season.
Yet, with these numbers in mind back in 2013 and now in 2014, Wallace has complained. He still wasn’t satisfied with his own numbers and didn’t care what was going on with the team. Ironically, the Post-Gazette said that in Todd Haley’s offense, the number of deep passes shrunk, which explains Wallace’s yardage and yards per catch. Again, does this sound familiar? It should because in Bill Lazor’s offense, the number of deep passes shrunk and ultimately turned Wallace into a possession receiver.
Let’s dig a little deeper and look at more comparisons between his days as a member of the Steelers and now as a member of the Dolphins.
On February 20, 2013, Antonio Brown was on ESPN SportsCenter and talked about how the locker room was divided due to the fact that there were several individuals who cared about their personal goals. His appearance was recapped in a post on Pro Football Talk. While names weren't revealed, it was widely assumed that he was talking about Wallace and running back Rashard Mendenhall.
“It was definitely different — guys weren’t really together,” Brown said. “That’s when you know you’ve got issues and you’ve got to come together as a team. Because the reality of a team game is everyone on the same page, committed to the same thing, dedicated for one goal, and that’s winning,” Brown said.
Brown said that Troy Polamalu even got up and spoke out about the need to play for the entire team but that fell on deaf ears. This is important to note because one of the criticisms from media and fans is that the Dolphins don’t have any leaders on the team but if they did, this type of stuff wouldn’t happen with Wallace.
However, if Polamalu, one of the most respected players in the NFL, couldn’t get Wallace and others to buy in on the Steelers, there’s probably no one in the league who could turn around the mindset of those players.
Brown, who was a young and unproven player at the time, bought into what Polamalu was preaching.
“He’s right on — we definitely had the talent, the pieces in the right place to do some things,” Brown said. “But winning is not talent. It’s all about being on the same page, and each guy having the guy next to him’s back, and being committed to winning. You see a Ravens team that was committed to winning and togetherness, and that’s what it’s all about.”
On December 14, 2014, Miko Grimes was hosting her talk show with Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel on 560 WQAM. For those who don’t know, Miko is the wife of Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes. She admitted on the air that the Dolphins locker room is divided when it came to Ryan Tannehill and other areas, saying that there are some that are on one side and a lot that are on the other side.
Of course, this speaks to locker room dysfunction and everyone not buying in. To further show the disconnect in the locker room, let’s take a look at a report from Jeff Darlington of the NFL Network
“During involved conversations with four players (and text exchanges with multiple others), all parties made it clear that Lazor's relationship with the players is currently rocky. His abrasive tenor with several starters has worn thin on some, and an inconsistent identity on offense is internally magnifying the issue,” Darlington wrote. “Is it a problem that Mike Wallace is now being utilized less as a deep threat and more as an intermediate receiver if that's currently the most efficient way to get him involved? Is it a problem that Lazor and head coach Joe Philbin don't give Tannehill any freedom to audible at the line of scrimmage if Tannehill seems to be playing the best football of his career?”
Again, we see Wallace’s name mentioned as a problem with the offense. Why does it seem that every time there is a problem with the offense or the locker room, Wallace is involved? It’s because he has a way of making his presence known behind the scenes. He is a polarizing figure that other players flock to and he ends up drawing a line with his guys behind him and the other guys on the other side.
And now, the last comparison that is extremely similar to the current state of the Dolphins. Adam Schein of NFL.com wrote a column on February 21, 2013 about the dysfunctional state of the Steelers.
“Last season's 8-8 third-place finish in the AFC North was not a fluke. The Steelers have real problems. Mike Tomlin is a great coach, but he needs to regain the pulse of the team. Leaders have to step up this offseason. The 2012 campaign was a topsy-turvy and tumultuous one for the Steelers. Receiver Mike Wallace's selfish and clueless contract dispute -- which didn't result in him gaining one extra penny -- set the tempo. After missing the offseason program, Wallace was ill-prepared for the new offense. He dropped passes and had a miserable -- and likely final -- season in Pittsburgh.”
And yes, the Dolphins, who finished 8-8 and now enter an important offseason with leaders needing to step up, will have to make a decision that the Steelers made when they looked at the entire organization. The Steelers cut ties with Wallace and have been better because of it.
What makes things complicated though is Wallace’s contract. According to OvertheCap.com, Wallace is scheduled to cost the Dolphins $12.1 million against the cap in 2015. If the Dolphins cut Wallace post June 1, they can save $6.9 million of cap space but would carry $5.2 million of dead money. If they cut him before June 1, the cap savings is only $2.5 million and the team would carry $9.6 million in dead money. Regardless of what happens, the Dolphins will owe him $3 million dollars in guaranteed money.
What will the Dolphins do? I know what they should do. Will they be bold enough to part with their highest paid player in the receiving corps? Only time will tell.
This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter: @PhinManiacs