At the time, the offer seemed like an attractive one for the Pittsburgh Steelers to consider.
Desperate for depth at the wide receiver and tight end positions, the New England Patriots were willing to part with a third round draft choice for the services of restricted free agent (RFA) Emmanuel Sanders.
A third round pick back in 2010, the Steelers would have received their original investment back if they allowed the injury-prone pass-catcher to go to New England last spring. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh’s brass, their thin-depth situation at wide receiver forced them to panic after the Patriots made their RFA offer.
The Steelers matched New England’s contract, Sanders stayed in Pittsburgh for the final season of his rookie deal and has had an up-and-down season as the team’s number two wide receiver.
Although the former S.M.U. Mustang has already notched single-season highs in terms of receptions (65), receiving yards (714) and touchdowns (six), his productivity has been overshadowed by teammates like Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery.
Brown has emerged as one of the game’s most effective wide receivers this fall, and is also in the midst of one of the finest single-seasons in team history (101 catches, 1,412 yards and eight touchdowns). Like Brown, Cotchery has been nothing short of a pleasant surprise this season as well. The veteran leads the team in touchdown receptions (nine), has posted 43 receptions for 577 yards and a higher yards per catch average (13.4 to 11.0) than Sanders.
As bad as the Steelers appeared to have needed wide receivers, the fact that they matched New England’s offer was somewhat puzzling at the time.
Considering the fact that the cap-strapped franchise would be unable to afford the wide receiver when he eventually became an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in the spring of 2014 was bad enough. In addition, the Steelers were unlikely to receive a compensatory pick in the ball-park of a third round selection in 2015 if Sanders decided to leave town after the final season of his rookie deal.
Worst of all, this franchise will have other free agents (Jason Worilds, Ziggy Hood, Cotchery, etc.) to take care of this spring.
At least to me, the Steelers missed a golden opportunity to add more young talent to their roster when they matched the Patriots’ RFA offer sheet back in April. Despite his recent knee injury and history of injuries, Sanders is still someone who should garner a high-level of interest on the open market due to his age and productivity.
I am not sure if renting Sanders for 714 yards and six touchdowns is what the Steelers expected when they matched the Patriots’ offer sheet. However, it was the decision which was made by Kevin Colbert and the front office and they must live with whatever consequences it continues to bring.
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