He’s the new guy, again. For the fifth time in 10 seasons, he finds himself acclimating to unfamiliar surroundings.
“Obviously, I didn’t envision myself moving around too much,” he said. “Nobody does.”
But that’s how it has played out for Wallace, despite a success-filled start and a seemingly symbiotic relationship with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Wallace averaged more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns over four years in Pittsburgh, and he caught nine catches for 89 yards and a TD in Super Bowl XLV in a losing effort to the Green Bay Packers. But 2012 started with an offseason holdout and ended without a new deal. He signed for big money with the Dolphins, which proved to be the beginning of a twisting and at times rocky path that took him to Miami and Minnesota and Baltimore, before arriving in Philadelphia this past March.
He seems to like it in Philly. Wallace jumped right into the mix with receivers who like to bust each other’s chops (“And then you’ve got ugly teammates sometimes, like Kamar Aiken, that make it tough on you,” Wallace joked mid-interview as his old buddy from Baltimore strolled by), and appear to genuinely enjoy being around one another. And he notes the positive, workmanlike atmosphere inside an organization that has him optimistic about what’s in store.
“The look in everybody’s eyes and the determination to get better every day is just amazing,” he said.
Now 32 years old, Wallace reflects matter-of-factly on his time in the NFL. He acknowledges mistakes along the way, but he also believes that circumstance and an appropriate prioritization of family helped dictate his fate and direct his decision-making.
Wallace held out of Steelers training camp in 2012, prompting general manager Kevin Colbert to pull any prior offers that were on the table. After the season, Wallace inked a five-year, $60 million deal with Miami that included $30 million guaranteed.
“For me, I just wanted to get that security. When you come into the league, it’s a physical, brutal game. You’ve got to max it out the best that you can. Sometimes it works in your favor; sometimes it doesn’t,” said Wallace, who stated he earned about $20 million more in guaranteed money by signing with Miami. “At that time, I was at full max. I didn’t go first round, top 10. I went third round; I had to grind my way to it. So when it was my time, I felt like I wanted what was due to me. I guess that rubbed some people the wrong way and it seemed like I was greedy, but I’m always putting my family first. That’ll always be who I am. My family is always going to come first.
“This is a job. To fans and people that watch it, it’s fun and you just love it. We all love it. But at the same time, when you put your body on the line every single day, this is our job. You have your job. You want to get the most you can, like anybody else. That’s something that will never be understood by the fans, and that’s OK; everybody is not going to see eye to eye with you. Everybody has their different views, but you have to do what’s best for you in your life at the end of the day.”
In Miami, he “butted heads” with then-head coach Joe Philbin, and in 2015, he was traded along with a seventh-round pick to the Vikings for a fifth-rounder.
“We both wanted to win. It was just different visions on how to get it done,” he said. “Sometimes, when you have strong-minded players, coaches have their own mind, so sometimes it’s going to work out that way. I used to stay after practice and catch 400 balls a day, trying to get better my first year to my second year in Miami, and I think it helped me a lot. I put in a lot of work, so I just wanted to win. I was an emotional guy. You wear emotions on your sleeves sometimes and some coaches can handle that and some coaches can’t. Some of them go with it and some of them don’t. That was just a situation where Coach Philbin wasn’t really like that.”
Operating in a run-heavy system with the Vikings, Wallace posted career lows pretty much across the board. Due $12 million the following year, he was cut. Then it was two up-and-down years with the Ravens before mutually parting ways. Wallace signed a one-year deal for close to $2 million to join Philadelphia in free agency.
“I wanted a chance -– not that I couldn’t do it there -– but I wanted to give myself the best chance to win the Super Bowl, and I like our roster here,” he said.
Wallace is in line to start opposite Alshon Jeffery on the outside for the defending champion Eagles, filling the spot left by Torrey Smith, now with the Carolina Panthers. The speed is still very much there; that’s the first thing teammates will point out when you ask about him.
“Fast. Speed-burner. Some people think in the later part of his career he will slow down a little bit, but he’s still got the juice,” fellow wideout DeAndre Carter said about Wallace. “I think it’s going to be an exciting year for him this year.”
Wallace leads the NFL in 50-plus-yard receptions since 2016 (eight). That breakaway speed plus Carson Wentz’s arm strength in this system could prove to be an intriguing mix.
He has reached the point in his career when some of his peers were fans of his when they were coming up. Second-year player Shelton Gibson — a burner himself — said Wallace was his favorite receiver when he was younger.
“When I got to the combine, I put on that 17 [jersey]. I was like, ‘This is crazy. Mike, Mike, Mike.’ Now I’m playing with him? It’s amazing,” Gibson said.
Wallace came into the NFL with Hall of Fame aspirations; he figures everyone does. But even though he has moved around and has not hit every bar, the former third-round pick out of Ole Miss seems content. He’s striving for two things: to reach 10,000 receiving yards (he’s at a little over 8,000 now) and to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy before he calls it a career, though the latter will do.
“If I win the Super Bowl, I could retire at the end of the year,” he said. “I don’t think I will, but I could retire at the end of the year totally fine with the way my career went and be happy and ride off and be fine, living my life for the rest of my life.
“I’m happy with what I’ve done. When I came out, people said I wasn’t going to be more than a third or fourth receiver, a kick returner, a special-teams player, at best. That’s what the scouting report on me said. I’ve overcome that, major, so I’m good.”