Cleveland Browns Free Agent Preview: Steelers WR Mike Wallace

Matt Sullivan

Mike Wallace will be one of the biggest free agents of this offseason. Will the Browns go after him, and better question, should they go after him?

When the NFL free agency season kicks off in a little over 3 weeks the Browns will have close to $50 million in cap space. That's a large chunk of change. With a few big names on the market, the Browns could be in a financial position to be in play for a few of them. Specifically we are going to take a look at one of those big names, Burnell "Mike" Wallace.

Wallace is well known around these parts, as he's played his entire 4 year career with Pittsburgh. With Jimmy Haslam's ties to Pittsburgh, it could work for us, or against us. Instead of taking a look at whether or not the Browns can actually sign him, I'll take a look at whether or not the Browns should sign him. Here are 4 pros and cons for signing Mike Wallace.

Pros:

1. Speed, speed, speed: Mike Wallace is known for his speed. Even before he came in to the league Wallace showed that blazing speed at the combine posting a 4.33 40-yard dash. Wallace then broke into the NFL by leading the league as a rookie in yards per reception. Throughout his career he's been able to showcase the speed it takes to be a bonafide deep threat superstar. Which leads me to my next point. The NFL is becoming a league dominated by passing more and more each season. In order to keep up (literally) with other teams, the Browns need to invest in speed at a lot of positions, specifically wide receiver. One of the keys this offseason for the new front office has to be finding playmakers wherever they can. Not every team gets lucky and drafts a Randall Cobb. The Browns haven't done that yet, but they could add speed and playmaking ability from Wallace. The key for the Browns is recognizing the need, and acting to fulfill that need. Wallace fulfills the playmaking portion and does it with blazing speed.

2. Legitimate deep threat: By adding Wallace, the Browns would be adding an already proven, legitimate deep threat. At times last year Brandon Weeden showed flashes of hitting the home run play. Imagine if Weeden had Wallace to the outside, those throws become much easier with that kind of speed. Not only would Weeden benefit from adding a deep threat like Wallace on the outside, the entire offense would benefit. Cleveland already added offensive guru Norv Turner to the staff, so in theory the offense should already be improved. Adding a deep threat like Wallace could improve the offense tenfold. Turner is a part of the "Air Coryell" tree that likes to stretch the field. A guy like Mike Wallace is an ideal person to have in Norv Turner's offense. Think of Vincent Jackson when he was in San Diego, that's what Wallace would bring to Norv's offense. Check out the below chart. Wallace is a premier talent in the long ball. He's already lead the league in 40+ yard catches in 2010, just his second year. His ability to get behind defenses is attractive, no matter what offense is being ran. In my opinion he underperformed last year in his contract year. Even still, he was able to haul in 4 40+ yard receptions, one more than Josh Gordon for the Browns. No one thinks the Browns are going to chuck it around 50 times a game, but with the addition of Norv to the staff, Wallace would be the pièce de résistance to an offensive renaissance.

40_yd_catches_chart_medium

3. Taking a FA from a divisional rival: The importance of this cannot be overstated. It'd be a huge boost to the fans and to the team to take a coveted free agent from a divisional opponent. There's no hiding the disdain for the Steelers within the Cleveland fanbase. So being able to take a solid player from them would be huge. Wallace has been a pivotal piece in Pittsburgh since he came into the league. And while it wouldn't be like we were taking Hines Ward in his prime, it'd still be a nice coup. Having to face the Steelers twice a year makes this even more intriguing. Imagine the boos Wallace would get from the Pittsburgh faithful. Thinking about that makes me excited. Getting under the Steelers skin would be a good thing for this young team. It's good to have a fire in your belly, and one would think playing against your old team would certainly light a big ole fire. Furthermore for Wallace, perhaps a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered. Compared to his first three years in the league, last year was a down year. Maybe a new team can bring back the Mike Wallace from his first thee seasons.

4. Exploitable Matchups: This reason is my favorite to think about. Imagine the different possibilities signing Mike Wallace would bring. When the Browns go 4-wide, they'd theoretically have Wallace and Josh Gordon on the outside with Greg Little and Travis Benjamin in the slots. We saw last year that Gordon also has that big play ability. Pairing Wallace and Gordon on the outside would give defenses fits. Wallace isn't a big guy, barely over 6', but as previously mentioned, it's his speed that defenses worry about. Gordon on the other hand, has good speed and size. Moving Greg Little to the slot creates even more matchup problems for defenses. Little isn't the most fleet-of-foot guy on the field, but he's a big, physical receiver. I think moving Little into the slot will not only benefit the team, but Little's personal performance as well. By moving Little to the slot it takes the pressure off of him to be that big play guy we all wanted him to be. Move him inside and he can use that solid frame to work the seams. Obviously Travis Benjamin is a natural slot guy to begin with, so not much changes for him. He's a speedster as well, so having Wallace and Benjamin on the field at the same time will be tough for defenses to keep up with.

The Browns have been desperately thin at wide receiver for years. Adding Wallace not only gives them a legit wide receiver option, but it also adds much needed depth to an already thin spot. Greg Little has shown some promise, I'm still on the Little Train. Little can be incredibly frustrating, but there's something about him that I can't help but root for. I know his ridiculous celebrations and inexplicable drops are frustrating, but if Wallace were playing with him it'd ease the pressure I think Little feels. Josh Gordon I think has an incredibly bright future in the league, one that only gets brighter with help from a guy like Mike Wallace. What it boils down to is; yes I think this wide receiving core has promise, but adding Wallace accelerates them from a work in progress, to a real NFL wide receiving core.

Cons:

1. Money, money, money: It's been speculated that Wallace will want somewhere around the $5-6 million a year clip. While the Browns do have a lot of cap space available this offseason, that's still a sizable amount to pay one guy. The Browns are obviously not perennial big-spenders, so for them to target a guy like Wallace might seem like a stretch. Why spend $6 million a year on one guy when there's so many other holes on the roster? With a few receivers on the team already showing some promise, signing Wallace takes snaps away from the younger guys. I believe this team has pieces in place that need to develop, and getting them on the field is the fastest way to develop them. There's needs spattered all over the field for the Browns, so save that money and put it to use elsewhere.

2. Trust the young receivers: At times last year I found myself enthralled in the Browns receiving core. I found myself believing that we had something going. At other times however, I found myself pulling my hair out in confusion and frustration. The Browns have some pieces in place: Gordon, Little, Benjamin. They need to focus on the core that is in place and not spend the money to bring in a guy like Wallace. Josh Gordon proved last year that he can be a big time receiver in the NFL. I really believe the sky is the limit for this kid. He's shown that he can be productive in this division and further development over the next few seasons will continue to prove the Browns did the right thing picking him when they did.

There's really no need to go out and get a guy like Wallace, when Gordon is already here. Flash Gordon might not be as fast (but then again, not many are), but he's still showcased that big play ability. Gordon had 3 receptions of 40+ yards last year, Wallace had just one more than that. Gordon didn't quite break on to the scene the way Wallace did, but it was still a very respectable showing. And the best part about that is that Gordon didn't even get in a full camp and didn't even get going really until after Week 4.

Greg Little also had a respectable first season in Cleveland, and has worked hard to get better. Greg Little only caught 51% of his targets his rookie year. Last year as a sophomore he caught 58%. Obviously that isn't a vast improvement, but it's at least a building block. Travis Benjamin also had some decent flashes last year, although he's still very raw as a receiver. The core is in place to have a successful, young wide receiving core, and it just might not be necessary to go shell out big money for another wide receiver.

3. Other FA options: Wallace may be one of the biggest names on the market this year, but there are plenty of serviceable options outside of Wallace. There are other big name guys: Wes Welker, Greg Jennings and Dwayne Bowe to name a few. But there's also some other options available as well; Danny Amendola and Brian Hartline come to mind. I'm not saying the Browns would pursue any or all of these candidates, but they definitely have options if they do decide to go after a free agent wide receiver. It can be argued that all of the free agents in this years class are no home runs, but each does have certain aspects that would definitely improve a wide receiving core, specifically a Browns wide receiving core that has underperformed.

Another thing to think about here, is would Wallace even consider signing with Cleveland? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the Browns have questions at quarterback. For a receiver, your best friend on the field is your quarterback. Wallace may see the QB situation in Cleveland and be more apt to look at other teams.

4. Why sign, when you can draft?: There's no question that Mike Wallace would come in as a proven receiver that would help the offense right away. But, there's much more to the equation than just sign and deliver. The Browns have holes in a lot of places, so spending tons of money on a receiver isn't the best course of action. Saving that money and improving elsewhere is pivotal. A way to save some coin and still improve is via the draft. The best teams in the league build through the draft, and that should be the plan for the Browns. There's viable options at receiver in this years class that might not have quite the impact that Wallace would have, but could still come in and contribute right away and help improve this team. Just look at what Josh Gordon did to this offense last year. The Browns could find another Josh Gordon this year. With the draft coming up there'll be plenty of time to go over draft options for the Browns, but I want to highlight a couple of ideas.

- Terrance Williams, WR Baylor – Williams has good size and speed combo. He checks in around 6'2", which combine him with Gordon and Little and you have solid size at the top three receivers. Last month's Senior Bowl really helped Williams' draft stock. He showcased great speed, while still ripping off some nice catches. Could the Browns go after another Baylor receiver? They drafted Josh Gordon, former Baylor receiver. And also reportedly wanted to draft Baylor reciever Kendall Wright, but the Tennessee Titans swooped in and put the Browns in scramble mode ending up with Brandon Weeden. I'm not sure the Browns will have a chance to draft Terrance Williams, but I think he's got a lot of updside.

- Markus Wheaton, WR Oregon St. - Another receiver making headlines at the Senior Bowl last month was Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton. I'd argue Wheaton is more similar to Mike Wallace than the previously mentioned Terrance Williams. Williams will probably check in just north of the six-foot mark, but that's not why the Browns would draft him. As I mentioned earlier there's options in the draft this year that could theoretically better serve the Browns than signing Mike Wallace, and Markus Wheaton might be one of those options.

- Caveat: Like Terrance Willams, Markus Wheaton had a big Senior Bowl appearance and thus could be working up the draft charts. The Browns notoriously are without their 2nd round pick this year after using that on another wide receiver, Josh Gordon, last year. If the trend continues, I don't see either of these two being available for the Browns, but some trades or other factors may make them targets nonetheless.

So as you can see, I've outlined both sides of the ball, and yes I got a little long winded so my apologies. Obviously Mike Wallace has his pros, but there are also the cons. While I can see both sides to the argument, my personal opinion is I just think the upside is too big to not try and sign Wallace. I am in the give-him-a-shot-camp. I think with the cash that the Browns have at their disposal, he's a fantastic option to improve the offense. I get the other side of the argument, but I prefer the signing side.

So, where do you all stand? Should the Browns go after and sign Mike Wallace?

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