There has been a lot of discussion about what really happened when Mike Wallace ended the 2014 season sitting on the Miami Dolphins bench. The prevailing thought was that Wallace either took himself out of the game, or he refused to do something that was asked of him. Wallace himself claims he was benched. At this point the argument really doesn’t matter to me. What does matter is what is going to happen in 2015. I have noticed that a lot of draft prognosticators already have Miami picking a WR in the first round. This would suggest that Miami is going to be moving in a different direction with their WR corps, and of course that is a distinct possibility. However, as of this writing, wide receiver is not a position of need in Miami. Wallace, Jarvis Landry, Brian Hartline, and Brandon Gibson form a talented WR corps, and clearly do not represent a weakness on this roster. Wallace is the #1 WR of this group and the only one capable of beating almost any defensive back one on one, especially on deep routes.
After giving this a lot of thought, I actually think the real issue is different than what most people think. In this article I wanted to present another viewpoint on Mike Wallace.
First, I want to review Wallace’s reported contract. He was given a five year, $60 million contract in 2013. Of that $60 million, the numbers that matter are an $11 million signing bonus and $30 million guaranteed ($27 million is fully guaranteed and $3 million is guaranteed for injury only).
In the NFL a signing bonus can be pro-rated over the duration of the contract, but is paid to a player upfront. So in 2013, when Wallace signed his deal, he was given a check for $11 million. He was then paid an additional $1 million in salary for 2013, then $15 million in salary last season. To put that together, in 2013 and 2014 Wallace has been paid $27 million of his guaranteed money. His reported final $3 million will become guaranteed on March 14th of this year.
What has been widely reported in the media is the Miami Dolphin salary cap situation. This is because Miami pro-rated Wallace’s signing bonus over the full five years of his contact. Thus they have only counted 2/5 of the original $11 million payment against their cap. There are many questions specific to when Wallace is cut (if he indeed is cut), and how that would affect the portion of his contract that would count against the cap. Those numbers can be confusing to follow. However, I want to not worry about the Dolphins cap situation with Wallace because, well, I don’t feel that is Wallace’s issue. You see, after March 14th Wallace will no longer have ANY guaranteed money due to be paid to him. And I think this is a VERY significant point in what happened in that final game.
Going back to that game, it was a divisional game against the Jets, and both teams had already been eliminated from the playoffs. In fact, looking towards the 2015 season, both teams actually stood to benefit from losing the game. Wallace entered that game knowing that when the final gun sounded, he would have been paid almost all of his guaranteed money. So if you think about it, what was the most important thing to him in this game? While it would not be bad for him to score 2-3 touchdowns and gain 150-200 yards and reach some personal goals, was he really looking for bragging rights or to look good on paper? I don’t think so.
The fact is, it was already being widely reported prior to that game that Wallace was overpaid. When the first half ended, Wallace already had an idea that he was in jeopardy of losing his job in 2015 because a lot of people think he is drastically overpaid for his production. In that last game of the season, it was pretty clear that he was not going to have a statistical game or season to support the remainder of his large (non-guaranteed) contract. At this point in time, if you are Mike Wallace you have to start thinking of the outcome if you get a major injury. You have only half of one game left to a season in which it is realistically impossible to make a huge change to your season stats. If you do something like say tear your ACL, you are effectively hurt for a large chunk of 2015 with only $3 million left to collect. Now I ask you, was Mike Wallace a pouty baby, or was he really smart and was thinking ahead since this game was meaningless?
I know as a fan it is easy to say, “Well, that is very selfish of him.” But is it really? Put yourself in his position. You want Miami to win, you want to do well, and you want to live up to your contract. However, at this point none of that is possible. Miami is already out of the playoffs, and you do not have enough playing time left to justify your production against a $12 million dollar salary cap hit in 2015. What is the point of putting yourself on the line? Pride? Yes, in theory pride in the game is noble, but I wonder how many of you would put pride ahead of the ability to earn a lot more money?
Interestingly, a week after PhinManiacs.com reported that Dennis Hickey met personally with Wallace, reports were leaked that there has been talk of restructuring Wallace’s contract. Of course most people are viewing this as Wallace acted like a baby, the team felt he is way overpaid, and that he should take a pay cut. However, this is not my take on the situation. I think Mike Wallace wants to earn a significant part of his remaining multi-million dollar contract, but the way Miami currently schemes their offense, he is not going to get enough production to justify earning that amount. Furthermore, he knows he has to put his body on the line and be a workout machine to be considered elite. That is hard to do when you know if you get severely hurt, you will not be able to earn the same amount of money. So I suspect Wallace told Hickey that he would be happy to return to Miami and give it his all, but he wanted Miami to guarantee him a large amount of his remaining money. Otherwise he would rather be traded to a team where he feels he had a better chance to score more touchdowns and justify his current contract. After thinking about this, I can’t say I fault him for wanting that.
Now what does this all mean going forward? Well, it means Mike Wallace and the Miami Dolphins have a chance to all be happy again if they can agree on updated contract arrangement. Wallace may very well back off of his yearly demand and be willing to play for a bit less, provided it is guaranteed. Say something along the lines of $8 million per year over the next three years with at least $16 million guaranteed. Mike Wallace gets the guarantee he wants, and Miami gets some cap relief in the process. Furthermore, this means Miami does not HAVE to use a high draft pick to replace a very talented player. Instead they could draft a player in an area where they lack talent, and look to improve the overall team. This improves the chances for Miami to play in a meaningful game late in the season, which is ultimately what I think Mike Wallace really wants.
This column was written by Chad Ronnebaum. Follow him on Twitter: @GoFins4SB