Ravens Receiver Mike Wallace Is (Once Again) Proving His Reputation Wrong


When Mike Wallace left Pittsburgh in free agency, he was labeled a money grabber.

When he was traded by the Miami Dolphins two years later, he was called a diva who demanded the ball too much.

When he was released by the Minnesota Vikings one year after that, he was written off and criticized for comments about Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Now, as he prepares to return to Minnesota this Sunday, Wallace is proving, once again, that the perception of him around the league is wrong.

Does Wallace like money? Yes, who doesn't? Does Wallace want the ball? Yes, what wide receiver doesn't? Does that mean Wallace is a problem? No. Anything but.

One thing is for sure in Baltimore. Even this season, as he's gotten off to a slow start and the offense has struggled, Wallace continues to be a bright spot and valued part of the team.

"Mike Wallace has been nothing but a leader, he has been nothing but positive, nothing but energetic," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. "I love when he walks out to practice. He pumps me up."

Things didn't go well for Wallace in his one season in Minnesota in 2015. He set or tied career lows in receptions (39), receiving yards (473) and touchdowns (two). He didn't start three of the team's final five games.

After trading a fifth-round pick for him the previous season, the Vikings released Wallace on March 8, 2016. The Ravens signed him just one week later.

At his initial press conference in Baltimore, a quote that Wallace meant as a compliment to quarterback Joe Flacco was misconstrued as criticism of Bridgewater. In reality, Wallace was just, yet again, misunderstood.

"I loved playing there, honestly," Wallace said on The Lounge podcast this week. "I loved Teddy. Teddy is one of the best guys I've ever been around in football, period. I just wanted more opportunity to go down the field and get some shots."

It's true. The Vikings had a very strong defense, running back Adrian Peterson and an offensive line with issues. Thus, they turned to more of a quick-hitting passing game. According to ESPN Sports & Information, Wallace was targeted 30 yards downfield only five times, which muted Wallace's best attribute.

After last season ended, Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he wanted Wallace back. He just came at too high a price tag. The Vikings saved a reported $11.5 million in cap space by parting ways with Wallace.

"I really loved Mike Wallace," Zimmer said Wednesday. "He worked really hard, he was a great kid. He obviously didn't get the catches that he wanted to get, but he worked hard every day, was a good team guy, in the locker room he was a good guy. I mean, everything about him was good. I couldn't say any bad words about him."

"Money is going to be the main factor all the time," Wallace says. "When you don't produce to the level that you're getting paid at, whether it's your fault or not, things happen. It's a business and I understand. So I don't have any hard feelings towards those guys."

Wallace's decision to come to Baltimore paid immediate dividends last year. He posted his first 1,000-yard season since 2011, catching 72 passes for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns. Playing alongside another brash wide receiver, Steve Smith Sr., Wallace fit right in and flourished.

This year has been more difficult, however. Wallace has just 15 receptions for 239 yards and one touchdowns in six games. That puts him on pace for 40 catches for 637 yards and three touchdowns – numbers similar to his season in Minnesota.

Yet Wallace has confronted the slow start with nothing but a strong work ethic, leadership and, as always, confidence, which the Ravens offense needs at times like these when it ranks 29th in the league.

After three catches in the first three games, Wallace has joked with reporters about wanting the ball more. While some media members and fans may have taken issue with it, those at the Under Armour Performance Center did not.

"He is confident and he wants the ball and he wants to play," Harbaugh said. "But when things don't go well, he is the biggest supporter of just improving and having each other's back."

Wallace never misses practice, and he treats it like a game. He frequently leads the wide receiver unit in hitting the JUGGS machine afterwards.

"Mike's a great, great locker room guy. Any of that stuff, in terms of being a diva – no, not at all," Flacco said. "Mike's great; he's a ton of fun. He's out here [at practice] catching touchdowns, throwing the ball up against the pads over there. That's just who he is; it's how he gets himself going. We love it."

Wallace has taken third-year wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who has admittedly struggled with confidence, under his wing. The ninth-year veteran is constantly telling Perriman, and reporters, how good the 2015 first-round pick can be, calling Perriman "my guy."

Wallace has enough confidence to share. He said it's been ingrained in him since his youth in New Orleans when he and his friends competed over everything.

"I know the guy standing in front of me can't stop me. That's just the way I feel," Wallace said. "If you don't want guys on your team like that, you're not going to win too many football games."

So how does a cornerback look at Wallace's antics?

"He's not one of those real divas like those ones back in the day like Michael Irvin," Jimmy Smith said. "He's diva-ish."

Wallace said his favorite player growing up was another former Dallas Cowboy (among other teams) Terrell Owens – who was definitely known for his theatrics. Wallace can still picture him standing on the Cowboys star with his arms spread wide, and doing sit-ups in his driveway while holding out of training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"T.O. was over the top and I loved it," Wallace said. "I'm not really that diva. I just get hype."

Wallace said his cousins are always criticizing him for his weak touchdown celebrations, but he tells them he can't dance that well. When it comes to other people who don't know him and are criticizing him or inaccurately labeling him, Wallace just shrugs his shoulders.

"I don't care, honestly," he said. "And the reason I don't care is because everybody that I'm really around – my teammates and my coaches – they know what type of person I am. I didn't just come here and start acting the way I am now. I've been the same person my whole life.

"You can't fault people who don't know you. It comes with the territory. I just roll with it."

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