Free agency doesn’t start until March 12, but the frenzy of Cleveland Browns rumors has begun already.
To think it really wasn’t that long ago that the Browns were in frantic negotiations with Matt Flynn.
Now the Browns have been linked to Mike Wallace.
Which would be a great move if the Browns want to add a receiver who’s not a great route runner, who turned down $10 million a year and then who played the most disinterested, moody season possible.
That’d be a great addition to a team that has a bunch of young players and young receivers.
Free agency is a great thing for the NFL. It keeps chatter going all year round, especially in the down time in February after the Super Bowl. Folks can look at who might be a free agent, then talk about said player joining their favorite team.
Hope reigns while realism fades.
This is happening to some extent with Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who will hit it big after leading Baltimore to the Super Bowl with an MVP performance.
But he’ll hit it big in Baltimore, where the Ravens will go the extra few million miles to keep him.
That hasn’t stopped chatter that the Browns will make a run at Flacco. As if the Ravens will allow a mature, experienced, smart, low-maintenance, durable, strong-armed guy who just led them to the Super Bowl to walk.
Then there’s Wallace, who will be available.
He’s big, fast and talented. But he showed absolutely no heart last season, when he was passed in the Steelers pecking order by Antonio Brown. Instead of fighting through contract disappointment, Wallace produced some of the most lifeless, listless games in memory.
Consider the last time the Steelers let a talented player leave their team in the prime of his career. It was probably Plaxico Burress, and he had some good seasons in New York and won a Super Bowl, but also wound up in jail.
The list of other good and dependable players who walked from Pittsburgh is pretty short. Pittsburgh lets guys leave for a reason — either they’re past their prime (Joey Porter) or have other issues (Santonio Holmes).
Then consider that a year ago the Steelers were saying they wanted Wallace to be in Pittsburgh for his career. Now he’s heading to free agency.
What’s that say about his attitude and the way he played last season?
Wallace’s issues started when no team tried to sign him as a restricted free agent, judging he wasn’t worth a first-round draft pick. When that deadline passed, Wallace’s rights reverted to the Steelers – for $2.7 million. Pittsburgh tried to sign Wallace long-term – for a reported $10 million per season – and couldn’t, so they chose to sign Brown, believing he was a better all-around receiver. Which left Wallace to play for the $2.7 million, or not play.
He played, but gave every indication he was moping – especially in a loss to the Browns when he dropped a pass, made no effort to come back on two deep balls and wound up with one catch for nine yards.
The next week, coach Mike Tomlin moved him out of the starting lineup.
For the season, Wallace had numbers that look good: 64 catches, 836 yards, eight touchdowns.
But his receiving yards dropped 30 percent from 2011, and he went from 11th in the league in yards to 34th. He had just two 100-yard games and his big plays (20-plus yards) dropped from 18 to nine, the number of catches for a first down from 54 and 11th in the league to 33 and 57th – behind Josh Gordon.
Go further: Wallace averaged 107 yards and .7 touchdowns the first seven games of 2011. In the 25 games since, he averaged 52 yards and had .4 touchdowns.
Pittsburgh did have a new system in ’12, but that’s still a severe drop, and that shouldn’t affect attitude. Wallace looks more and more like a guy who can do two things: Go deep or run a crossing route.
He does not look polished, does not run precise routes.
And he did not play like he cared.
He will wind up somewhere because of his speed and ability to stretch defenses, but to think the Browns would benefit from a one-dimensional guy who showed the attitude of a spurned teenager doesn’t add up.