It may be a bit hard to believe but about four years ago, there was a legitimate debate about whether the Pittsburgh Steelers should keep wideout Mike Wallace and sign him to a new contract or get rid of him and insert Antonio Brown into the top receiver spot.
Despite holding out during training camp in the summer of 2012, Wallace came back to play through the final year of his contract. But by that time, the die was cast. The Rooney family doesn’t react too well to players who holdout at training camp. In response to Wallace’s holdout, the Steelers re-signed Brown to a five year, $43 million contract and the 27 year old Wallace spent his last season in Pittsburgh auditioning for his next team.
In 2012, it made complete sense that the slightly more experienced and speedy Wallace would have been a better fit for Todd Haley’s offense than the untested Brown. Both receivers topped 1,100 yards in 2011 but Wallace had over 1,200 yards the season before while Brown was just starting out and only had 167 yards in 2010. So the safe bet would have been to keep Wallace.
Best case scenario for Steeler fans would have been to keep both and potentially recreate the glory days when the Steelers had two Hall of Fame wide receivers, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, on the same field. Seeing that possibility, many wanted the Steelers to show Wallace the money.
Pay mike Wallace
— Zach Moore (@zachmoore_90) July 27, 2012
— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) July 27, 2012
So Antonio Brown got paid but not Mike Wallace c'mon Steelers we better than that
— Jude Adjei-Barimah (@1prince_adjei) July 28, 2012
I like antonio brown but you can't pay him and not pay mike wallace smh
— Jamaan Webb (@Primetime___24) July 28, 2012
Are the Steelers serious? They re-signed Antonio Brown but are low balling Mike Wallace? Cheap Bastards
— Antwan V. Staley (@antwanstaley) July 27, 2012
At the time, many chose Mike Wallace over Antonio Brown. In fact, I have to call myself out. At that time, I felt Wallace over Brown was a no-brainer because Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley loved the deep threat (and still do) and Wallace’s speed complemented that well. Maybe I just had a fear of the unknown and wasn’t seeing what Brown was doing behind the scenes that Haley and the Rooney family was seeing but I felt Wallace deserved his contract. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone as other fans, NFL analysts and NFL players agreed with me but were ultimately proven wrong.
i dont believe Antonio Brown is a #1 receiver. #Steelers will need to get one if they let Wallace dip
— Daniel Dudley (@DDisBORED) July 27, 2012
No disrespect to Antonio Brown, had a fantastic season. But, Wallace deserves better for his last few years. Top flight playmaker.
— Aron Yohannes (@AronYohannes) July 27, 2012
@thebaldtruth Wallace is so much more talented than Brown. We'll have to agree to disagree.
— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) July 28, 2012
— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) June 21, 2012
@NFLOpinionator if the Steelers think Antonio Brown is going to "replace" Mike Wallace, that would be a huge mistake.
— Michael Schottey (@Schottey) August 7, 2012
After Mike Wallace went to the Miami Dolphins, his career kind of stalled. It wasn’t terrible by any stretch but until this season, Wallace hadn’t broken a thousand yards in a season and regressed since he signed with Miami. Now in Baltimore, Wallace has already doubled his total from last season and is just 97 receiving yards away from reaching 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since before his 2012 holdout.
For Antonio Brown, he only became the top receiver in the NFL. Once he became the guy in Pittsburgh, Brown almost doubled his receiving yards total (787 in 2012 to 1,499 in 2013) and led the NFL in receptions the last three seasons, culminating with a career high 1,834 yards in 2015.
Could Mike Wallace’s career have gone another way if he didn’t holdout and re-signed with the Steelers? We’ll never know. It’s one of those “what might’ve been” scenarios pondered by Wallace and Steeler fans. In the end, the Steelers knew what they had with Antonio Brown and while much of the public wasn’t yet convinced, the Rooney family was and they made the right move.