Mike Wallace had some unfinished business when the Ravens signed him last March.
He was coming off the worst season of his career, and had heard all of the questions about whether his best days were behind him. He made it clear from the outset of his Ravens career that he wanted to prove he could still play at a high level, and he did just that by leading the team with 1,017 receiving yards.
"I accomplished some of the things I wanted to – just to come out and have a pretty good year, and I think I did that," Wallace said at the end of the season. "You play this game for respect. That's what you want to go out and do every week, every year. I think I earned some of that back."
As the 30-year-old receiver looks ahead to the 2017 season, he recognizes that an even larger burden will likely fall on his shoulders.
Steve Smith Sr., Baltimore's top playmaker and clear leader of the receiver group, has retired after 16 NFL seasons. Kamar Aiken, Baltimore's leader in receiving yards two years ago, is set to become an unrestricted free agent. No other receiver on the roster has started more than one NFL game.
"Even with Steve, I still looked at myself as a leader of the group. Obviously he was the front runner, but I'm still a leader of that group," Wallace said. "I just have to lead the way even more so now that he's not there. But it's not the first time I've been in that situation, so I'll be ready."
The Ravens reportedly have a club option to keep Wallace next season for $8 million, which they would have to exercise by the end of the 2016 league year on March 8. Picking up his option would be a sign they expect Wallace to build off his 2016 performance.
Wallace is quite familiar will getting labeled as a team's No. 1 receiver. He wore that badge during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and then with the Miami Dolphins after signing a $60 million contract.
"I feel like there are just more eyes on you, but I'm fine with that," he said. "The first year you just kind of try to feel things out and make sure you fit in well with the guys. I think I've done a good job* *with getting to know my teammates and fitting in well – which is not hard with the type of people we have on this team – it wasn't a problem when I got here, and I don't think it will be a problem for me to be able to lead on this team."
In addition to bringing back Wallace, General Manager Ozzie Newsome indicated during the season-review press conference that he hopes to bring in a complementary veteran receiver this offseason. That's exactly what Wallace was last year, and he turned out to be the team's leading receiver.
Wallace also pointed out that the Ravens still have former first-round pick Breshad Perriman, who put up 499 receiving yards and three touchdowns last year. The Ravens are hopeful that Perriman becomes more consistent and reliable, and takes a big step toward becoming a No. 1 target.
"He has a lot of tools. There's not one thing he can't do on a football field – height, size, speed, everything you need – and he can make plays," Wallace said. "I think we only got a little taste of what we're going to see from him. I think he'll be 100 times better when we comes back next year."