Mike Wallace: Should the Vikings cut him or keep him?

Dec 27, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Mike Wallace (11) catches a pass during the second quarter against the New York Giants at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 27, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Mike Wallace (11) catches a pass during the second quarter against the New York Giants at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

Mike Wallace has a big salary number and the Vikings will have to make a decision on whether to retain him or let him go.

If the Minnesota Vikings choose to keep Mike Wallace for 2016 on his present contract, they will have to pay him $11.45 million dollars. That’s a little steep for a player who last year caught just 39 passes for 473 yards and two touchdowns.

Wallace’s meager production was clearly not what the Vikings were expecting when they picked up the receiver and his contract via trade last offseason, but this wasn’t entirely Wallace’s fault. Overall offensive ineptitude was as much to blame for Wallace’s bad numbers as anything Wallace did or didn’t do.

Though Wallace came to the Vikings with a reputation as a malcontent and a whiner and a divisive locker room presence, by all accounts he was a model teammate last year and a hard worker, even through all his on-field struggles.

Wallace was such a positive presence on the Vikings’ relatively young team that it even impressed head coach Mike Zimmer who sang Wallace’s praises (via Minneapolis StarTribune):

"I would like him back, I love the kid, I love his heart. He just went and worked every day and tried to get guys better. He loves it here, he loves Teddy. If it can get worked out, I’d like to have him back."

Mike Zimmer votes to have Wallace back, but of course Zimmer doesn’t have to worry about salary cap management.

It goes without saying that Wallace will not be back if the Vikings have to pay him $11.4 million for next year. The only way Wallace returns is if he is willing to re-structure his contract.

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Zimmer’s remarks make it sound like Wallace would be willing to re-do his deal in order to stay, but who knows what Wallace and his representatives are really thinking. If Wallace thinks he can get a better deal elsewhere, on a team where his skills might be better utilized, then he’d surely prefer to be cut so he can enter free agency.

Wallace’s personal view on this isn’t important now, what matters to us is whether it makes sense to bring Wallace back at any price. What does Wallace bring to the table at this point in his career?

Wallace’s prime attribute is still his speed. He still possesses the wheels to get behind defenders down the field and present opportunities for big plays. The issue last season wasn’t Wallace’s speed, it was his quarterback’s ability to find him once he got open.

On paper, Wallace and his deep speed seemed like a good fit in Norv Turner’s offense with its deep drops and long passes. As the season played out however, the Vikings were forced to move away from the offense they envisioned and that greatly reduced Wallace’s role.

Since then the Vikings have sent signals indicating that they mean to move further away from Norv Turner’s run-first/vertical-passing style of offense and toward a scheme that incorporates more West Coast principles, not the least of these signals being the hiring of WC guru Pat Shurmur.

But even if you’re incorporating more short passes, you still need a deep threat to take advantage after you’ve loosened up the defense. Mike Wallace has the speed to be that deep threat.

So the question here isn’t whether Wallace has the ability to contribute, it’s how much of a contribution he can realistically make in whatever type of offense the Vikings end up running.

It’s unlikely that Wallace will come close to compiling the sorts of numbers folks were anticipating when the Vikings picked him up, but that’s neither here nor there. The question is whether Wallace can be a viable piece on a winning team, and how much the Vikings are willing to pay him to fill whatever role they envision for him.

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Since Wallace’s attitude seems to no longer be an issue,  and we know he can still burn when necessary, I see no reason not to bring him back as long as the money is reasonable. Again, it all comes down to whether Wallace is willing to stay, take way less money and accept a role as a complementary player whose stats are not always going to look that great.