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The curious case of Mike Wallace

The Miami Dolphins top wide receiver may be on his way out.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Just two offseasons ago, the Miami Dolphins embarked on a spending spree that reshaped the team through multiple high priced free agent signings. The top of those signings was former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, who joined the Dolphins on a five-year, $60 million contract. Now, just two years later, Wallace may be on his way out of town.

In two seasons, Wallace has recorded 140 receptions for 1,792 yards, with 15 touchdowns. He is, however, well below his 17.2 yards per catch average with the Steelers, averaging just 12.8 yards per reception in Miami. He has repeatedly expressed frustration, openly talking to the media about it, and, reportedly, took himself out of the game at the end of the first half of the team's final game against the New York Jets in Week 17. Whatever actually happened, as Wallace has denied that he quit, Miami head coach Joe Philbin benched him for the second half of the game, and the Dolphins players did not seem surprised by the move.

What will happen over the next couple of months with Wallace? Will the Dolphins welcome him back? Will they eat the dead money and release a receiver who was so aggressively targeted and marketed once he arrived?

Earlier this week, the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero retold a discussion he had with an un-named New England Patriots player from Super Bowl week. When the player saw Salguero's press credentials, he asked the reporter about Wallace. As Salguero explained Wallace's frustration, the player replied, "To me, that's mental toughness. When things ain't going your way you got two choices in my mind. You can bow up and get tougher and fight through to try to change the situation. Or you can complain.

"Even if you got cause and complaining is what most people would do, if you take that road that makes you mentally weak in my book. This team here, the men in this room are some of the most mentally tough [expletives] I've been around. They don't bitch. They don't quit. They just work."

Salguero then pointed out that it is much easier to be mentally tough when your team is winning, as the Patriots were, than when they are losing, as the Dolphins did to end the season. "You must not of known about how we started the year," this player answered. "We [were] not a good team then. The Dolphins kicked our behinds. The Chiefs kicked our behinds. But we put our nose to the grind. We put our heads down. We worked. We focused on what we had to do to make it right. Nobody was happy. Nobody. But nobody complained. We worked. We didn't blame coaches. We didn't blame each other. We didn't say [expletive]. Every man did his job."

That could be exactly Wallace's problem.

No one is saying Wallace does not work hard. He practices hard. He works after practice on his catching. It just seems, when things get difficult in the game, or things are not going perfectly his way, Wallace does not deal with it well. Rather than turning it into a motivator, Wallace allows his frustration to boil over, leading to his saying things that maybe he does not mean.

The Patriots player is not the only one to discuss Wallace recently. In his "NFL's 10 big offseason questions" article this week, ESPN's Mike Sando relates a discussion he had with an offensive assistant with another team in the league. Sando writes:

"During the season he thought the Dolphins needed to 'swap out' Wallace because the receiver did not run good routes, shied away from contact and was not a great fit for Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

'Ryan Tannehill is not a Ben Roethlisberger, run-around-and-find-you guy,' this coach said. 'He does not have that feel for the game. They do not have No. 84 [Antonio Brown] in Pittsburgh on the other side who is the best receiver in pro football.'

Sando also points to 2013 comments from former Steelers coach and current Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, who spoke about how the Steelers used Wallace. "He is fun to coach," Arians explained. "He brings a lot of energy, a great smile to work every day. Great in the locker room, great practice habits and obviously he can bust it open on game day at any given moment. It was fun. We changed our game a little bit about routes because of his speed. Instead of running vertical routes, we ran a lot of diagonals from one corner to the other corner because he could get there. It was fun putting pressure on defenses with his speed. He didn't have to go deep to catch it. He could take the short ball and got so much better at taking the screens or the quick passes and taking them to the house."

There is a big decision sitting in front of the Dolphins, and not one with an easy answer. Owner Stephen Ross, general manager Dennis Hickey, and coach Joe Philbin have all been asked about the future of Wallace, and no one has given a definitive answer. The team is clearly considering what to do with their top receiver, and it really may be to allow him to leave.

Giving up on Wallace adds another hole to the Miami roster, one that two years after signing the top receiver on the market should not be a need that has to be addressed. The team really needs to find a way to get Wallace back in the fold. It may be too late, however, especially if his teammates agree with the Patriots player, deciding Wallace is mentally weak. If Wallace did quit, and the players feel like he is a liability based on mental weakness, there may be no way for Wallace to return to the Dolphins.

It's a strange situation, and a situation that may not have a right, or a wrong, answer.