First of all, I would like to congratulate wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on his new 1-year deal worth $2.5 million.
Sadly, I must also give kudos to Grumbledore and the rest of New England’s brass for how they played “Sanders Situation” to their advantage as well. I mean, it’s not every day that a franchise can force an A.F.C. rival to grossly overpay a slot receiver with a whopping EIGHT career starts under his belt.
I mean, I hate to be a complete and total “Negative Nancy” about Sanders and his return to Pittsburgh, but I for one do not agree with Colbert & Co.’s most recent move.
For those of you ecstatic over the front office’s decision to bring Sanders back, let me remind you that the cap-strapped Steelers just doubled the 2013 salary of a player who has amassed a combined 94 catches, 1,290 yards, and a total of 5 receiving touchdowns during his first three seasons in the league!
Don’t get me wrong, Sanders has been a decent slot receiver when he has been healthy over his three-year career. But is he really a “must-have” type of player who will make this team better than the 8-8 squad that they were last season?
Look, I am not saying that the Steelers would have selected a better pass-catcher than Sanders with the 3rd round pick that they could have received in exchange for his services. But Pittsburgh definitely could have used the extra selection to add depth/a future starter at a number of other positions of need like inside linebacker, outside linebacker, free safety, strong safety, and running back.
I should also mention that there are some talented slot guys who could be available from rounds 3-5 of this year’s draft class (Stedman Bailey, Josh Boyce, Ryan Swope, and Markus Wheaton). While some are worried about rookie wide receivers and their lack of knowledge of Pittsburgh’s offensive system, I should also add that those rookies would only be a year behind Sanders in terms of their knowledge of offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system! Plus, veteran Jerricho Cotchery has performed well when he has received ample chances during his career with the Steelers, and definitely could have contributed in the slot too.
As it stands now, the Steelers might inevtably be forced to sign Sanders long-term, because he will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the upcoming season if they do not want to make him an expensive 1-year rental. Of course, Emmanuel could play it smart and test the UFA waters and spurn the cap-strapped franchise next spring for a more lucrative deal elsewhere!
Let’s say that Manny actually can stay healthy during the upcoming season, and then sets career-highs in categories like catches, yards, and touchdowns. If the Steelers cannot work out a long-term deal, then Sanders has zero incentive to stay loyal to Pittsburgh when he becomes a UFA. Remember readers, the Steelers will likely be in “salary cap hell” next offseason too, and some team could easily come in and offer Sanders an even bigger deal that Colbert & Co. cannot afford to match on the open market! Pittsburgh is not exactly in a position to start throwing lucrative and long-term deals out to their players. Thus, the likelihood of Emmanuel actually receiving a long-term deal by the time the free agency period begins next year is slim, and the team must find ways to lock up important players like Maurkice Pouncey and Cortez Allen in the near future as well.
Some of you might point out that Pittsburgh would receive a compensatory pick in 2015 if and when Sanders leaves for greener pastures next offseason. But as I pointed out in a previous post, #3/borderline #2 pass-catchers usually don’t fetch their previous teams high compensatory picks (i.e. Nate Washington, 5th Round 2009). In fact, Washington put up similar if not better number during his first three full seasons (2006-2008: 48 games, 7 starts, 104 catches, 1,705 yards, 12 touchdowns) with the Steelers than Sanders has done during his first three with the team (2010-2012)! Granted, Manny can definitely increase his productivity, but I highly doubt that he would be worth a 3rd round compensatory selection.
I for one am very skeptical of the move to pass up an important draft pick during a rebuilding process to take a chance like this on a player who might not even be around when the 2014 season begins. In fact, I will continue to remain skeptical of this move until I see that Sanders is capable of turning into an effective and productive starter at the professional level, and that he can be locked up past the 2013 season for an extended period.
Call me a “Negative Nancy” all you want, but I believe that retaining Sanders is an expensive endeavor which the rebuilding Steelers would have been wise not to take at this juncture.