The Eagles are the fifth NFL team to employ Mike Wallace, in a career that began when he was drafted in the third round by the Steelers in 2009. Up to now, his decisions on destinations have been guided by money, Wallace said Friday.
With his 32nd birthday approaching, Aug. 1, Wallace said he used a different criterion this time, in choosing to take a reported $2.5 million from the Eagles on a one-year deal.
“I passed up other opportunities and more money. That wasn’t my focus,” Wallace said when he met with reporters at NovaCare. “My focus was to try to get myself the best chance to compete at a high level and get to the championship.”
Asked how much of his decision involved the chance to play with Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, Wallace said, “Ninety-nine percent. The other 1 percent was the rest of the team.”
This has never been a place free agents actively avoided, but winning the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history last month, with a nucleus that will enter the 2018 season relatively intact, has changed the free-agency game for the Eagles, at least a little.
When Howie Roseman, fighting a tight salary cap, opted not to pay playoff hero Torrey Smith $5 million this coming season, it seemed Roseman was taking a gamble with his wideout corps, either on 2017 rookie Mack Hollins stepping up, or on a 2018 draft in which the Eagles’ first selection is 32nd overall. Adding Wallace – 2 ½ years older than Smith, but also much more accomplished, with a comparable skill set — at such a manageable figure lowers the stakes of that gamble considerably.
Of course, the matter of when and how Wallace gets to work with Wentz, to build the longball connection the Eagles are seeking, is complicated. Wentz is recovering from ACL and LCL surgery, won’t be on the field for spring work or for training camp, is hoping to be ready for the start of the regular season. But Wallace, who caught 11 passes of 20 yards or more for Baltimore last season, has played with more than a few quarterbacks. He has made these adjustments before.
“It shouldn’t take long. … Two weeks?” Wallace said. “It takes time. We can just work on that throughout watching film and things like that, but until he gets out there, there’s no way to tell [how long it will take]. But I think he’s a great young quarterback. He’s fired up, man.”
Wallace said Wentz contacted him to welcome him to the team.
Wallace ran a 4.33 40 at the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine – despite a tweaked hamstring, he said Friday. He said he hasn’t lost any speed.
How much longer does he think he can play?
“Ten or 15 years … my gas tank ain’t even halfway yet,” Wallace said.
Wallace signed a five-year, $60 million deal in Miami in 2013 and a two-year, $11.5 million deal with the Ravens in 2016. (He spent 2015 with Minnesota after being traded by Miami).
“When you’re young, you have a different agenda,” Wallace said. “I didn’t try to come to this game to leave empty-handed. I had to secure the ‘bank,’ and I did that. Now it’s time to try to secure a ring.”
Wallace said he wants to show that “I’m not old, I’m not washed up, whatever else [critics] got to say.”
Wallace caught 52 passes for 748 yards and four touchdowns last season, but the Ravens missed the playoffs with an offense that struggled mightily, finishing 27th overall. They were ready to move on, and so was he. Reports indicate he had some key drops during his two years in Baltimore, and wasn’t as consistent as the Ravens and their fans might have hoped.
“Something was needed,” after such a disappointing finish to the 2017 season, said Wallace, who is one of 10 active players with 8,000 receiving yards and 500 receptions. “I was just, ‘Whatever, whatever.’ … At the end of the day, it’s business. I have no problems with it.”
Wallace said he is willing to play outside or inside, contribute however the Eagles want. Smith started outside, next to Alshon Jeffery, with Nelson Agholor in the slot. Subbing Wallace into Smith’s spot makes that a more imposing group, as does the fact that he has played the slot effectively, should anything happen to Agholor, or should the coaching staff just want to give Agholor more work outside.