Nine months ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were offered a third round pick as compensation for Sanders from the wide receiver-needy New England Patriots.
I thought the potential move was a risky gambit, especially since the Steelers had some question marks at the wide receiver position entering the 2013 regular season. Nevertheless, a third round draft choice was the highest price tag they would likely receive for Sanders if they allowed the impending free agent (2014) to walk.
Make no mistake, Sanders has enjoyed a career-year in terms of production (58 catches, 661 yards, and five touchdowns) during what is his fourth professional season. However, it is the crafty veteran Jerricho Cotchery, not Sanders, who should be in line for a contract extension from the Steelers’ brass this spring.
You can throw all of the ‘age,’ ‘upside,’ and ‘explosiveness’ nonsense in Sanders’ defense that you want. I will not deny that Sanders has the edge over Cotchery in those particular areas. Nevertheless, I would rather see the Steelers’ front office make a concerted effort to ink the more reliable veteran with better hands who is a far superior red zone target than the more expensive youngster.
I am not advocating that Cotchery needs to replace Sanders in the starting lineup next fall. The number two role opposite Antonio Brown would be best filled by Markus Wheaton or a high round choice in the upcoming draft.
Yet in today’s passing NFL, a competent third wide receiver is something that every offense must have at their disposal. As nice as it would be to bring Sanders back, Cotchery’s production (41 catches, 571 yards, nine touchdowns, 34 first downs) and price tag (ending two-year contract worth $3 million) make him a far more attractive option for Pittsburgh to pursue.
In addition to his on-field production, Cotchery also has the potential to be a valuable locker room presence during Pittsburgh’s rebuilding era. Cotchery could be a perfect guy to mentor Pittsburgh’s younger pass-catchers, and is someone who could provide advice to guys like Wheaton, Justin Brown, and Derek Moye while go through their early-career growing pains.
So please, Kevin Colbert. Let Sanders walk, recoup an eventual compensatory pick for him and make a sensible football and financial decision for your cap-strapped franchise. Cotchery needs to stay, Sanders does not.
Like “NPC” on Facebook: Nice Pick, Cowher