by Joe Fortenbaugh
March 01, 02012
Just imagine the possibilities.
Already capable of causing opposing defensive coordinators to awaken from their 2:00am slumbers in a cold sweat due to the lethal tight end combination of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the New England Patriots now have an opportunity to make their offense even more nightmarish to defend.
According to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Pittsburgh Steelers have opted against using the franchise tag on restricted free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace due to salary cap issues. As a result, any team interested in acquiring the explosive wide receiver would have to give up a first-round selection in addition to signing Wallace to a fat new contract.
Enter the New England Patriots.
ICONCould Mike Wallace find himself in a Patriots uniform come next September?
Already one of the league’s preeminent offenses, the Patriots came up less than a minute short of hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy this past February for a number of reasons, one of which was the team’s lack of a big-play wideout capable of stretching the field.
Mike Wallace fits that need and then some. Since entering the league in 2009, Wallace is averaging 18.7 yards per reception (third in NFL) and ranks second in receptions of 25+ yards (40).
The initial part of this equation that requires New England to surrender a first-round pick would be easy to satisfy. The Patriots are currently sitting on the 27th and 31st overall selections, meaning they’d still be able to make some first-round noise even after sending No. 31 to Pittsburgh.
But what about New England’s ability to sign Wallace to a long-term contract after trading away a first-round pick? That shouldn’t be a problem, either, as John Clayton of ESPN reports that the Patriots are “in good shape” with $20 million of cap space as of February 13.
As much as New England fans may hate to admit it, their team’s window for winning another Super Bowl is rapidly closing. Tom Brady turns 35-years-old in August and Wes Welker and Vince Wilfork turn 31 in May and November, respectively. Add in the fact that the Patriots ranked 31st in the NFL in total defense during the 2011 regular season and you have a team that’s probably better-suited throwing all of their eggs in one basket rather than looking ahead to the future by making a series of less-impactful transactions.
Remember, the last time Brady and Belichick had a viable deep threat committed to the cause came in the form of a 30-year-old Randy Moss, who caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and a staggering 23 touchdowns in 2007 en route to a 16-0 regular season and a spot in the 2008 Super Bowl. The Patriots may have come up short against the Giants when it mattered most, but the offense still scored an NFL-record 589 points that season, with Brady taking home MVP honors.
It’s inevitable that any Wallace-to-New England discussions will involve comparisons to Moss, but in Wallace, the Patriots would be getting a 25-year-old burner entering the prime of his career rather than a 30-year-old red flag who wore out his welcome in both Minnesota and Oakland.
A first-round pick and a big contract commitment may be a roll of the dice for the Patriots, but when have you ever known Bill Belichick to play it safe?
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