IN MY OPINION

Greg Cote: $60 million man Mike Wallace needs to be money for Miami Dolphins

 
WEB VOTE What best describes your feelings about the Dolphins’ moves so far in free agency?

gcote@MiamiHerald.com

Mike Wallace, the fresh new face of the Miami Dolphins’ plan for the playoffs, dismisses the idea of feeling any external burden to meet or exceed expectations. “I put enough pressure on myself,” he said Wednesday.

The onus is on him, though, and that’s fair.

He should understand that.

Whether he acknowledges it or not, it is there.

Whether he parlays it as motivation or buckles from its weight, it is there.

No Dolphins player will bear heavier expectations into the coming season than the newly imported receiver from Pittsburgh. It matters not whether the expectations are his own or others’; they will be on him like the sweat of a July training camp.

Not even second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill will face as much pressure. Tannehill is a work in progress, after all. Wallace is supposed to be great enough to help the young QB be great, not vice versa. That’s why he is here.

Wallace’s proving is not done. Really, it has just begun.

There is agreement that Wallace is very fast, his irrefutable commodity, but not broad consensus whether he is an elite wide receiver or merely very good.

He must be elite here, and not less. He must be a guy who earns his way into the hallowed company of Paul Warfield, Mark Duper and Mark Clayton whenever Dolfans are discussing the club’s greatest receivers.

He is being paid to be that.

Wallace’s five-year contract could swell to $60 million – $30 million of it guaranteed. Instantly he finds himself the NFL’s third-highest-paid receiver after Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, both more accomplished. Whether Wallace merits their company, this money, will be open to debate until he proves he is.

Miami and general manager Jeff Ireland are rightly getting credit, here and nationally, for landing Wallace, despite the great cost. I certainly like the signing. The Dolphins last year had a boring offense with little of the excitement we expected new coach Joe Philbin to bring with him from Green Bay. A lot of that was the lack of a deep threat — any threat to cause opposing defensive coordinators a fitful sleep.

Wallace is supposed to change. Right now.

Newly re-signed safety Chris Clemons was asked Wednesday if he had ever covered Wallace. He remembered one occasion: “I had the middle of the field. Corner played off [him]. He took it to the house. He can definitely take the top off the coverage.”

That means use his 4.3 speed to blow past the deepest line of defense and put nothing but open space between him and a goal line.

There are concerns he must overcome or prove false, however.

A reputation for casual route running precedes him, as does a tendency toward occasional dropped passes. One wonders why a savvy organization like the Steelers would let him go. One also wonders if a player who held out for more money last season will be satisfied now by all those guaranteed Miami millions — satisfied as in not as motivated as he should be.

I’m not being skeptical. I think Wallace will be great. But the Dolphins’ recent track record at the receiver position invites a shade of wait and see.

Miami is the team that underutilized Wes Welker, practically gave him away to New England, and watched him become one of the NFL’s most prolific receivers (and a Dolphin-killer, too).

Miami’s most recent first-round draft pick at the position was Ted Ginn Jr.

And three years ago Miami traded for a receiver of Wallace’s stature only to regret it.

I recall Brandon Marshall was introduced in a nearby Renaissance hotel meeting room because the Dolphins at the time had a well-meant but ultimate silly policy of treating all players the same to the degree not even an arriving star would be afforded a team-affiliated news conference.

Marshall’s smile was magnetic. He said he was happier than he had ever been.

There was no clue, then, that he would reveal himself to have Borderline Personality Disorder, yell at teammates on the sideline and be gone after two fairly productive but ultimately unfulfilled seasons.

Wallace can’t be another Marshall — OK to pretty good for a little while and then gone. Wallace is only 26. He said Wednesday he will spend “hopefully the rest of my career in Miami,” and fans should share that hope. The Dolphins need to hit big here. Need him to be great, not good. They need Wallace to be for Tannehill what the Marks Brothers were for Dan Marino, a fixture of consistent, constant excellence.

Early odds out Wednesday put Wallace’s 2013 betting over/unders at 62.5 catches for 925.5 yards and 6 1/2 touchdowns. I guarantee that Miami is counting on more, on the “overs.” And should.

The Dolphins are building something here. The road in front of the club’s Davie offices and training camp site is under serious construction, and so is the franchise headquartered there.

There is a sense the team might be poised to at least end its four-year slump of winless seasons. Clemons said, “I definitely believe we’re a playoff team.” Wallace noted, “I don’t feel like this was a team that [was] 7-9 in a bad way” — aware perhaps that four losses were by a combined 14 points, two in overtime.

The club also introduced its two new linebackers Wednesday, with Dannell Ellerbe describing his style of play as “hair on fire,” and Philip Wheeler describing his as “aggressive, like a shark.”

The construction isn’t finished. Not with more holes to fill, more free agents to acquire and the draft just ahead.

This won’t change, though:

Wallace will be the Dolphins’ biggest and priciest acquisition of this 2013 offseason.

They need him to be the best, too.

Read more Greg Cote stories from the Miami Herald

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