The New England Patriots decided to sign Pittsburgh Steelers 26-year-old wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet worth $2.5 million for one year a couple of days ago, and the Pats are expected to give Sanders a long-term deal later. This one-year deal might be the first of its kind given to a restricted free agent, and it’s considered to be a “dirty” move by the Patriots in league circles. The Pats offered Sanders one year with the intent being to further place strain on the cap-strapped Steelers to match their offer for Sanders. Plenty of Steelers fans believe that the team should just take the Patriots third-round pick and save the cap space, because the Steelers have just $2 million in cap left. The fact that the Patriots gave Sanders a one-year deal means that the Steelers will have to absorb the $2.5 million up front.
According to ESPN’s John Clayton, the Pittsburgh Steelers organization as a whole is about “50-50″ on whether or not they should match the Patriots offer for Emmanuel Sanders and keep the versatile SMU product. Some in the Steelers front office believe that the team should just take the pick and run with it, while others believe that it is best for the team to keep Sanders.
The Steelers lost Mike Wallace this offseason and have Heath Miller coming off of an ACL tear, but the Steelers are the best organization in the NFL at drafting young talent- particularly at the wide receiver position. A player like Stedman Bailey or Aaron Dobson could develop into the next solid Steelers receiver, so Pittsburgh fans are high on that.
The issue here is that Sanders himself was worth a third-round pick, as the Steelers couldn’t afford to give him a higher tender. Sanders has the ability to stretch the field, play in both the slot and outside, and he is a talented wide receiver in his own right given his early production. I don’t view him as an injury-prone player, because he did play in 15 games last season and has averaged 13 games per season through his three NFL seasons. I know he isn’t the most “healthy” player as far as injuries go, but Sanders is far from some injury machine.
It’s going to be a tough call for the Steelers, and the toughest call seems to be whether or not it’s worth going up against the cap by keeping Sanders and losing out on a third-round pick. Drafting a WR in the third round is cheaper than keeping Sanders; there’s no doubt about that. But Sanders is most likely better than a player the Steelers would draft in the third-round. If I were the Steelers front office, I would make the move to keep Sanders. Losing out on the cap space is going to hurt, but the Steelers wide receiver corps would not be in good shape after losing both Wallace and Sanders. Just keep that in mind.
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