Last year’s unrestricted free agent market was not exactly loaded with quality wide receivers.
Because Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace were really the only top-tier players at that position on the market, guys like Danny Amendola (five years, $28.5 million) and a soon to be 30-year-old Greg Jennings (five years, $45 million) were able to cash in with lucrative deals due to the low supply of players who were available that spring.
Why am I mentioning this right now? Well, because Emmanuel Sanders is set to become an unrestricted free agent this March. Moreover, Sanders will hit a free agent market that is far more loaded with talented wide receivers than the one from last season.
Crowded Free Agent Market
Eric Decker, Anquan Boldin and James Jones will be three wide receivers should garner most of the interest on the open market this spring.
At 6’3″ 206 lbs, Decker possesses the size and athletic ability to be one of the league’s most sought after free agents this March. After a solid season with Tim Tebow as his quarterback in 2011 (44 catches, 612 yards and eight touchdowns), the Denver receiver has become one of the AFC’s best wide receivers during the last two years.
The addition of Peyton Manning helped the now 25-year-old put up some tremendous numbers, and Decker’s 132 catches, 2,352 receiving yards and 21 touchdown catches should put him in line for a hefty extension this spring.
Although Boldin and Jones might be considered ‘old,’ their productivity last fall and in recent years should make them extremely marketable to wide receiver-needy teams.
Boldin, who will turn 34 this fall, emerged as a safety blanket for the young Colin Kaepernick and a valuable stop-gap when Michael Crabtree was sidelined in 2013. In addition to his team-leading 85 receptions and 1,179 receiving yards (1,179), Boldin tallied seven touchdown receptions for the 49ers.
Jones should receive plenty of interest on the free agent market as well. Although the soon to be 30-year-old wide receiver’s touchdown total dipped from 14 in 2012 to three last fall, his 59 catches and 817 receiving yards ranked second on the team.
In addition to the three wide receivers I listed above, there will be plenty of quality number two and number three options hitting the open market this March.
Julian Edelman and Golden Tate are both coming off of a career-seasons with the Patriots, and Riley Cooper did a solid job during his first full season as a starter. Even the speedy Andre Roberts could garner some under-the-radar interest from teams in need of a young slot receiver.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention that Jerricho Cotchery, Sanders’ teammate in Pittsburgh, actually led the Steelers in touchdown catches during a personal-renaissance campaign in 2013 too.
Even some injury-prone yet talented pass-catchers will be available for teams to gamble on as well. Danario Alexander will entice teams who are looking for a large-framed threat in the red zone. 2009 NFL Draft classmates Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks, and Kenny Britt will also be on the market as a high-risk/high-reward options.
Where Does Sanders Sit?
With so many productive players set to join Sanders on the free agent market, one has to wonder how much interest a player like Pittsburgh’s number two wide receiver will receive this spring. Thus, if the glut of wide receivers drives Sanders’ price tag down, one has to wonder what type of potential contract offer the Steelers’ will make, if any, to him.
The team obviously liked Sanders enough when they matched New England Patriots third-round offer sheet last spring. So how much money they will try to allocate to a new deal for him in the near future will be interesting to say the least.
Personally, I would not pony up more than an average of $4-$5 million per season on a soon to be 27-year-old who has yet to post more than 67 catches, 740 receiving yards and six touchdowns in any one of his first four professional seasons. Nevertheless, I would be happy to see the Steelers are ink a receiver like Sanders to a deal in the four-to-five year range worth $16-$25 million.
Call me crazy, but I do not think that unrestricted free agency will be as kind to Sanders this spring as many are anticipating it will be.
Although the cap-strapped Steelers will be at a disadvantage if they get into an above-market value bidding war with another franchise, the talent on the free agent market could drive the projected price of the former S.M.U. Mustang down to a level which could entice Pittsburgh’s front office to bring him back with a second contract.
I understand that the ‘Jason Worilds vs. LaMarr Woodley’ decision will be the most headline-grabbing story of the free agency period for the Steelers. However, Pittsburgh’s brass could very well have the resources to sign Sanders to a second contract if the wide receiver’s value as a free agent is distorted by his contemporaries on the open market.