It is the holiday season, and I am in a very giving mood. What that said, I recently had the urge to write a Thank You card to an athlete who used to don the black and gold of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Before getting into the nuts and bolts of who I am sending this to, as well as why, it should be known I appreciate all players -- current and former -- for their contributions to the team. However, this player is still making a lasting impact on the Steelers, from another organization.
The player? Mike Wallace.
No, not the 60 Minutes Mike Wallace, but the wide receiver from the University of Mississippi who was drafted by the Steelers in the 3rd round of the 2009 NFL Draft. The receiver who dazzled crowds with his straight line speed and ability to "take the top off" a defense like few others could, and can. The receiver Mike Tomlin consistently labeled a "one trick pony" for his very raw route running abilities.
It was Wallace who seemed to be the captain of the "young money crew". The trio of receivers were comprised of Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. In terms of drafting wide receivers, getting Wallace in the 3rd round in 2009, Sanders in the third round in 2010 and Brown three rounds later in 2010 might be some of the finest drafting in franchise history, at that position.
Okay, enough background story. The true meaning of this 'Thank You' dates back to 2012 when Wallace wanted a new contract before entering the final year of his rookie deal, and decided to holdout of training camp. With all other players hard at work, Wallace was trying to make a point, and it didn't quite work out for the speedster.
The Steelers reportedly offered Wallace a 5-year $42 million dollar contract, which was turned down. Wallace decided to bet on himself and play the 2012 season on a one-year franchise tender, but the Steelers, an organization which doesn't tolerate players trying to run negotiations, decided to go in a different direction.
Two days after offering Wallace a new contract, the Steelers turned and gave the same deal to Antonio Brown. The decision was met with criticism at the time, as Brown was largely unknown as a receiver, but the crux of this article is to thank Wallace for turning down the team's 5-year contract.
For a second, think to yourself what it would look like if Wallace signed the 5-year offer from the Steelers. The team knew they wouldn't likely be able to keep the entire "young money" trio for an extended period of time, and if Wallace was the player getting paid it could have resulted in Brown finding employment elsewhere.
Sanders jettisoned for the Denver Broncos, Wallace departed for the Miami Dolphins and eventually the Minnesota Vikings. Meanwhile, Antonio Brown has become the best wide receiver in football. There isn't a Sunday, Monday or Thursday that goes by when the Steelers play I don't watch Brown give opposing defenses headaches and I don't think to myself, "Thank you Mike Wallace for turning down that contract in 2012."
If Brown's production over the past three seasons isn't enough to make your head turn, Wallace's lack of production certainly will have you realize just how this deal worked out in the Steelers' favor. In his two years with the Dolphins, he never totaled 1,000 yards receiving, but was able to tally 10 touchdowns in 2014. For Minnesota, Wallace's numbers have been dismal. 440 yards with just 2 touchdowns in 2015. Brown has eclipsed those numbers in two games this season.
Needless to say, the Steelers, and their fan base, have greatly benefited from Wallace's decision to take his talents to South Beach after the 2012 season. If he hadn't, Antonio Brown might be making plays, winning AFC Player of the Week honors, AFC offensive Player of the Month awards and being named to All-Pro teams for another organization.
I think I speak for all of Steelers Nation when I say, "Thank you Mike Wallace!"