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Mike Wallace Sweepstakes: New England and Cleveland Should Be First In Line

Mike Wallace could leave Pittsburgh as an restricted free agent this offseason, if the Steelers do not place the franchise tag on him, or sign him to a new deal. That, of course, also depends on another team being willing to pay the compensation of a first round pick, as well as his asking price on a contract.

It presents an interesting scenario of the interplay between the new rookie wage scale, and new rules limiting compensation for players receiving the highest tender offer to a first round pick, when formerly teams could get a first and a third round pick if another team signed the player away.

Ed Bouchette talks about how the Steelers are not likely to franchise Wallace at the price of more than 9 million, and will likely see if he gets any offers from other teams, that they could then choose to match or take the draft pick. However, given that Pittsburgh is about 10 million over the cap entering the offseason, any offering team could certainly make it unlikely Pittsburgh has the capability to match.

Bouchette’s post is titled “what is Mike Wallace worth?” and he states, “Wallace is good, but not $10 million annually good.” I agree, but thought I would go a little further to estimate it, looking at Wallace as well as what a first round pick used on a receiver would be worth. Along the way, we can talk about surplus value, as well as the cost of getting more predictable performance.

Mike Wallace is one of 19 receivers to have at least 2,200 yards at ages 24 & 25 since the league went to 16 games, sitting right in the middle at #9. He’s a speedster with a high yards per catch at a young age, so he falls more toward the Flipper Anderson/Torry Holt/Mike Quick/James Lofton end of the spectrum than the Plaxico Burress/Brandon Marshall/Larry Fitzgerald/Carl Pickens end. I looked at what those receivers did over the next five years, dividing seasons into those with less than 500 yards, 500-749 yards, 750-999 yards, 1000-1249 yards, and greater than 1250 yards in a season.

I then did the same for every first round pick at wide receiver drafted between 1978 and 2007, looking at the first five years of their careers. I divided those into early first (picks 1-10), mid first (picks 11-20) and late first (picks 21-32). Here is the summary of how frequently each type of player reached the milestone over the next five years.

 

 

 

Yeah, the Wallace comps stretch the gambit from Flipper Anderson to Jerry Rice, but very few of them had a season will less than 500 yards, so you are highly likely to get a starter for five years if you sign Wallace. If I gave you an over/under on Wallace seasons with 1,000 or more receiving yards over the next five [ed. at 2.5 seasons with 1,000 or more], which way would you go? I’d lean slight under, but it would be close.

Meanwhile, those late first round receivers produce less than 500 yards in half their seasons. Those would be the picks that someone who is willing to sign Wallace needing a speed receiver might be willing to give up, rather than use it on a receiver.

Now, let’s try to put a figure on those performance numbers. Using the most recent wide receiver cap hit numbers on Spotrac, I found the rank of the median performance in each of those ranges, and matched it to the corresponding salary figure with the same rank.

For example, the third best performance would be an all-pro type season, greater than 1,350 yards. That would match up with the third highest cap value, 10.4 million. That number passes the sniff test, since it slightly exceeds the franchise number. The remaining figures were 6.3 million, 3.7 million, 1.1 million, and $500,000 for those seasons under 500 yards.

Here’s the average salary production over a five year period, using those figures:

 

 

 

A couple of things on those numbers, since they are based on last year. We saw with the new deal and with the rookie wage scale that veterans got even more money, so expect those numbers to shoot up. I’m not sure what the expected inflation rate, but it will be real as more of the veteran cap numbers are deals done since 2011.

The other thing is surplus value versus paying for performance. The late firsts will cost a team about 1.5 million per year, so they are getting good surplus value. However, at some point, if you have a bunch of $1 million dollar players for $500,000, you have great value but a losing team. Further, while the average late first provides surplus value, most provide slight negative value. It’s just that those that hit provide tremendous value.

On the other hand, the veteran Wallace comps getting paid 6 million would mostly provide a slight positive return, but the upside is less. With inflation, I think a reasonable price if you are going to give up a draft pick is about 6.5 to 7 million per year over the next 4 to 5 seasons. The deal could be structured with a slight front load, and Pittsburgh likely cannot match with their cap problems. That buys you the additional upgrade in performance and far less likelihood of an outright bust.

Who should be interested? Among teams with a draft pick at the end of the first, New England has two, and could use an outside receiver. They’ve been trading down for years but could cash in for an established receiver. Cleveland got Atlanta’s pick. If they could surrender that one as part of a deal, they are a division rival who desperately needs a talent upgrade at receiver, and already has used plenty of recent draft picks.

[photo via US Presswire]

 

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