Ask a Vikings fan at this time last week who Bobby Wade is and they might have responded with, "Who?" Now they know Bobby Wade is the only free-agent wide receiver the Vikings have signed so far this year.
But others might also know him as a player who has had a rocky career to this point. In four years with the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans, he hasn't put together back-to-back seasons with more than 15 catches. Yet the Vikings offered him $15 million over five years, including $4 million in guarantees.
It was Wade's first foray into free agency, and he says he feels no additional pressure to perform with his first big free-agent contract in tow.
"I think I've done a great job of getting better every year, not always necessarily numbers-wise, but that has a lot to do with other circumstances—a lot of them are out of my control," Wade said. "But as far as me personally, being a better athlete, being in better shape, being a stronger athlete, being a smarter athlete, I'm progressing this year more than ever."
After an average rookie season in which he caught 12 passes for the Chicago Bears, Wade went on to his most productive season as a professional—42 receptions for 481 yards—and the following season he was released in Week 13 and picked up by the Tennessee Titans.
"My second year, when I had 42 catches, we went through like seven different quarterbacks that season, from rookies to picking up guys off the street that hadn't played in years. That obviously posed some challenges, and the next (year) of course Rex (Grossman, Chicago's starting quarterback) got hurt when we came up there and played Minnesota," Wade said. "The third year Rex got hurt in the preseason in St. Louis, so that kind of set things back. We had to start with Kyle Orton, so it was rough offensively that year. I was still the third receiver but didn't a chance to catch a lot of balls. I wasn't on the field a lot.
"I was excited about the change and getting the chance to play with an offensive coordinator that was going to take more advantage of what I felt like I had to offer."
Last year, as he settled into Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow's scheme, Wade returned to being a productive receiver. After only 14 catches in split-time duty with the Bears and Titans and in 2005, he caught 33 passes for Tennessee in a part-time role in 2006.
It was his last season with the Titans that impressed the Vikings enough to believe that he could at least be their slot receiver in 2007, if not capture a larger role in their offense.
But there is one cloud that still hangs over Wade's young career—ball security.
As KFAN's Dan Barreiro pointed out, Wade muffed five punts and fumbled four more in 2005. It was his first and only season as a full-time punt returner. Last year, however, he did return 50 kickoffs for 1,194 yards (23.9-yard average) and didn't lose a fumble (although he was credited with two).
Wade says his problems with securing the football came from trying to struggle for a couple of additional yards at the end of plays.
"That was just me. You've got to make a conscious decision every time you catch the ball and I've just got to focus on the fact that ball security is more important than the extra 2 or 3 yards," Wade said. "It's hard to tell (what the problem was) because last year it was fixed—I didn't put the ball on the ground once last year."
I guess it's just kind of growing up and realizing what's more important. I don't think that's an issue for me anymore. It's just practicing and putting the ball away and securing it. There are definitely techniques that you can use that will help you."
He'll try to put those techniques into practice as the Vikings' new slot receiver, and he's already been trying to learn the offense.
"I watched so much film in a day there, probably more than I've watched in a long, long time," Wade said. "Not only that, but there are a lot of new things that are going to go in in minicamps and OTAs (organized team activities) and things like that."
Wade Explains Rocky Career
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