The Pittsburgh Steelers rescued wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from the nefarious clutches of the New England Patriots by matching their offer sheet late Sunday night. By tendering Sanders an additional $1.2 million on top of the $1.3 they already offered, the Black and Gold avoid losing what is expected to be their #2 receiver to a hated conference rival. They also roll the dice in the sense that had they let Sanders go, they would’ve received the Patriots’ third round pick in this year’s draft. Manny will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and with his agent already making noise about wanting a decent chunk of change in order to sign a long term deal, it’s entirely possible the Steelers will lose him next winter and get next to nothing in return.
The Sanders Saga has been one of the more mystifying developments of this off-season. There has been an inordinate amount of discussion devoted to a player 90% of football fans have probably never heard of, most of it driven by muckraker Mike Florio over at ProFootballTalk. Florio is a noted Steeler hater so it’s not surprising he gleefully chronicles their every move looking for barbs to throw but over the past week he’s followed the Sanders Saga like it’s Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. While I get that the Patriots and Steelers are two of the most popular fanbases and popularity = clicks, no less than seven posts on a guy who’s caught a grand total of five touchdowns seems ludicrous.
By the way, I have a correction to make on my original Sanders post from a few days ago. The $2.5 million in cap room PFT listed the Steelers having left was as of the current date. It doesn’t take into account the $5 million in space they’ll get when Willie Colon‘s salary comes off the books on June 1st. So while giving another million to Sanders hurts their ability to add an Ahmad Bradshaw or linebacker depth, they should be in good shape to sign all their draft picks.
Of course the burning question is did the Steelers do right by retaining Sanders? I was torn a few days ago but the more I think about it, it was the right move to make. I’m amazed a whopping 57% of fair-weather yinzers voted in a P-G poll to let him go. I’m even more amazed by the people calling into talk radio bemoaning Kevin Colbert turning down a third round pick in exchange for him. Since when did third round picks turn into precious gold?
Do the names Willie Reid or Dallas Baker ring any bells? How about Limas Sweed? Sweed should be familiar if only because Sanders had a couple Sweed-like moments last season when he dropped a pass then feigned injury to cover for his blunder. However my point is, a third round pick (91st overall) is not exactly a can’t miss prospect. For comparison purposes, last year’s 91st pick was an OT who didn’t see the field last year. Two years ago, it was a linebacker who has started 13 games in two season and has yet to record a sack. With the 91st pick last year, the Steelers could’ve gotten a fine young receiver like the Colts’ TY Hilton (taken one pick later) or they could’ve gotten a guy like Carolina’s Joe Adams (taken nine picks later) who made one whole catch all season.
Point is, the NFL draft isn’t an exact science. The Steelers could’ve found a receiver every bit the equal of Sanders. They also could’ve wasted the pick on yet another shitbum. Furthermore, this team has a number of holes that need filled at OLB, ILB, CB, RB and WR. Subtract Sanders and you almost have to draft at least two wide receivers, burning a pick that might be better spent addressing another position. They might still take two young wide outs but at least now there is some flexibility.
Whether Sanders gets his act together and fulfills some of the potential we saw his rookie year when people forget he looked like the emerging star until Antonio Brown broke through during the post-season remains to be seen. At this point, it’s a gamble the Steelers had to take.