The NFL loves to have a ticking clock on top of its home page on the league website. It doesn’t matter what the event – the Super Bowl, the draft, the first game of the regular season or free agency – the NFL is enamored with the countdown clock. Believe or not, last year, the NFL’s website invoked a countdown clock for the announcement of the 2012 schedule – despite fans already knowing who their favorite teams were going to play, just not when.
As the current NFL website clock winds its way down to the start of free agency Tuesday afternoon, the league, its media and millions of fans are left to speculate as to what free agents are going to be part of the initial flurry of signings once the ticker hits :00 and deals can be made.
One of the players who has drawn the most speculative interest is wide receiver Mike Wallace. Blessed with blazing speed, the team being mentioned most often since it became obvious Wallace would be among the free-agent class of 2013 has been the Miami Dolphins.
When the Dolphins got rid of perpetual headache Brandon Marshall, the offense under rookie QB Ryan Tannehill was impotent. On most teams, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess would be fighting for the No. 3 or 4 receiver spot, not being the starting tandem. That’s the desperate situation in Miami, which will make the Dolphins much more likely to open up the vault and let Wallace run.
But, as such stories go, whether based in reality or by an agent using the media to create competition, it would appear Miami isn’t the only team being thrown into the conversation of teams that will make an early push for Wallace. The Vikings are also being mentioned.
Numerous NFL websites have jumped on the story, setting the early betting odds on either the Dolphins or Vikings landing Wallace next week. The question then becomes how serious do the Vikings have to get in order to bring Wallace into the fold, and what will the complications/ramifications be?
Heading into the 2012 season, Wallace was clearly the No. 1 receiver in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have a habit of not getting into bidding wars for free agents. They tend to build from within and the only big contracts they tend to give out are to their own players – the ones they know and the ones that know their system and succeed. The Steelers signed a wide receiver to a long-term extension before he hit free agency, but it was No. 2 receiver Antonio Brown, not Wallace … which is telling.
The Steelers are a rarity in the NFL. They tend to spend their money wisely and are constantly developing stars who earn big contracts. Some are kept in the fold. Others are allowed to leave. Wallace, it would seem, is being allowed to leave. That has to be cause for concern for any other organization because the Steelers fairly compensate players they see as beneficial to the long-term future of the franchise. They didn’t do that with Wallace, which should beg the question “why?”
Miami makes perfect sense from the logistical standpoint. The Dolphins have a young QB in need of a go-to receiver and Wallace is as big-play as they come. Over the last three years, he’s never scored fewer than eight touchdowns or caught fewer than 60 passes. He has built himself a track record of being dependable and durable – missing just one game in his first four seasons. South Beach would seem like an ideal landing spot for Wallace.
Wallace is the type of free agent the Vikings under G.M. Rick Spielman have gone after – players looking for their first big contract, not their last. With an offense that has opposing defenses stacking the box and cheating a safety down consistently to combat Adrian Peterson, a deep threat like Wallace could be the weapon the Vikings offense needs that it currently lacks – quite possibly the missing puzzle piece that stands between a playoff team and a Super Bowl team. Wallace combined with Percy Harvin could create a lethal receiving combination, but therein lies the problem.
Harvin is a 100-catch type of receiver capable of breaking big plays at any time. If Wes Welker is the benchmark of that type of player, he’s worth about $10-$12 million a season. If Harvin was to hit the open market, he would command the kind of money Welker is seeking. If the Vikings make an impact signing of Wallace next week, how can they expect Harvin to accept his current contract unless they pay him too? It’s one thing to make a third of what Michael Jenkins made. It’s another to make 10-15 percent of what Wallace would likely get if the Vikings sign him to a free agent deal.
While the NHL is far from the idyllic blueprint for building a franchise, the Vikings may want to take a page from the Minnesota Wild. The Wild plucked two of the biggest free agents on the market and signed them the same day to identical contracts.
Perhaps the sources of the stories connecting the Vikings with Wallace are accurate. However, from the side of things from those who spend a lot of time with the Vikings and have come to recognize the organizational tendencies of players, coaches and the front office, it seems hard to fathom that the Vikings would invest $18-20 million a year over the next several seasons in two wide receivers.
It would seem that the rumored competition between Minnesota and Miami has one of three potential outcomes. One is that the Vikings lock down both Wallace and Harvin, invest an even more significant portion of their future salary cap to the offensive side of the ball and tell the rest of the NFC North “Go after A.D. all you want. Game on!” Second is that a Wallace signing is a precursor to the Vikings swinging a Harvin trade (as long as we’re rumor-mongering, Tom Brady would LOVE to have Harvin at his disposal running crossing routes inside of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez). Third is that the story is overemphasizing the Vikings’ interest and they just keep their focus on Harvin, re-sign Jerome Simpson and look for a budding star deep threat receiver in the draft.
One of those three scenarios is likely going to play out over the next seven days. The one that comes to fruition will go a long way to determining the short-term (and perhaps long-term) future of the Vikings franchise.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.