By Jeremy Hritz
The Mike Wallace debate continues to heat up. The question of whether or not he will be signed by another team has earned national attention, with speculation of New England, Cincinnati, San Francisco, and Baltimore gearing up for a run at the speedy wide receiver. While it seems unlikely that Wallace will be wearing a different jersey next year, just what exactly would the Steelers be missing if he were to go?
In only three seasons, Wallace has scored 24 touchdowns and gained 3200 yards receiving, which amounts to a little over 1000 yards per season. Wallace is also good for the big play, this year catching 18 passes of 20 or more yards and 7 passes of 40 or more yards. Over his career, Wallace is also averaging 18.7 yards per catch. Outside of his drop off in the second half of the 2011 season, he has proved to be a game-changing player capable of excellent production. Additionally, his ability to stretch the field opens up the passing game for Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, and Emmanuel Sanders. Combine all of the above with Wallace’s youth (he will turn 26 in August), and you have a productive receiver who will contribute for several years to come.
If Wallace does in fact exit Pittsburgh, how will it impact the passing game? Firstly, the true value of Brown will be discovered. Brown caught for 1108 yards this season, but how much that production was attributable to the attention that Wallace commanded is unknown. If Wallace is no longer a Steeler, Brown will become Ben Roethlisberger’s primary receiver and will be looked to fill the void. Would he be able to do it? Secondly, if Wallace does go, does it open a door for Hines Ward to return? With Wallace out of the picture, Sanders would become the number two, Jerricho Cotchery could be signed to a deal and serve as the number three, opening up the number four spot for whom else but Ward. However, if the organization believes that Ward’s skills have severely diminished, they could draft a young guy or bring in a mid-tier free agent.
Wallace’s departure could also make Miller a more active part of the passing game. The historical joke at the start of every Steelers season is that the team will throw to the tight end more, yet if Wallace does leave, this could be a reality. While Miller is no Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, he has proven that he can be productive and could thrive if he was made to be a focal point of the offense.
Lastly, if Wallace does leave, there will more than likely will be a greater emphasis put on the running game. Losing a player that accounts for as many yards, big plays, and touchdowns that Wallace does has to be addressed in some way, and that could be in the form of recommitting to the running game. But will Isaac Redman be capable of such a challenge, or will the Steelers draft a running back this coming April?
There are a variety of questions yet to be answered about the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers, and the question surrounding Wallace and his possible exit is the most intriguing because of how it will impact the offensive approach of the team. Just what would the identity of the Steelers offense be without Wallace? No doubt there are a few teams out there hoping they find out.