Bill Belichick and the Patriots tried to keep their interest in Emmanuel Sanders under the radar. After rumors surfaced about the Pats seeking some receiver help, the team denied that they were interested in signing Sanders to an offer sheet.
Wednesday, the team finally ended their “secretive” interest in the Steelers wideout by signing him to an offer sheet. Pittsburgh will have five days to match the offer, or Sanders will become the newest starter to leave town. The Steelers will be compensated a third-round pick (91st overall) if the sheet is not signed. It is rumored that the Patriots have just a one-year contract on the table should they acquire Sanders’ services.
New England must have finally realized that with Rob Gronkowski slated to miss the opening game of the season and the departures of Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, and Julian Edelman that they might need someone for quarterback Tom Brady to throw the ball to. As it stands, the only healthy pass-catchers currently on the roster are Aaron Hernandez and Danny Amendola.
New England is truly showing how desperate they are for receivers at this stage in the off-season. Though I doubt the team is willing to part with another draft pick, the slew of major injuries and lack of depth has forced their hand. New England has already given up almost all of their ammunition for the Draft. They’ve already traded away their fourth-rounder for Aqib Talib, their fifth-round pick on bust Albert Haynesworth, and their sixth-round selection for another former receiver, Chad Ochocinco.
So the question is whether or not the Steelers should re-sign their own player to shore up depth at wide receiver, or take the extra draft pick? All signs point to letting him walk, and here’s why.
If the Steelers decide to match the offer, the salary cap situation would be nearing emergency levels. Currently, the team is just a little over $1.5 million in cap space, which is not even enough money reserved to sign the team’s draft selections. With all of the holes still left to fix on the roster, the Steelers need to save money for the draft.
Although they would be returning a player that knows the offense, with all the re-occurring injury problems Sanders does not see the field for more than half of the games anyway. There may not be many better options behind him, but I would rather draft a faster slot-receiver that can make plays in offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s ‘dink-and-dunk’ offense. Antonio Brown can make plays on the outside, but the Steelers lack a guy that can go across the middle and consistently move the chains.
The biggest factor as to why the team might be better off without Sanders is because of the upcoming draft class. In recent memory, there has never been a draft class so deep at the receiver position in the later rounds. Teams can still grab quality receivers even after day 1. Though the more elite prospects like Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin, and Keenan Allen might all go in the first round, there is still quality play-making behind these selections. Players like Robert Woods, Justin Hunter, and Da’Rick Rogers can be had in the second round. Contributors like DeAndre Hopkins, Stedman Bailey, and Tavarres King can make plays and should be available at the later stages of day two action. Even in day three, Ryan Swope, Chris Harper, and T.J. Moe could all be key players at the next level and are all slated to be day three selections.
If ever there were a year for the Steelers to have an extra third-round choice, this is it. This is a team that evaluates talent well and has made big signings outside of the first two rounds. The current number one receiver, Antonio Brown, was a sixth round selection. Though it would be tough to see him go, Sanders has not been healthy or consistent for the team for a full season. GM Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin would be wise to save their money for the extra draft choice and sign a speedy slot guy to take over for the oft-injured Sanders.
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