By matching New England’s offer sheet for restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders the Steelers have one less hole to fill heading into the 2013 season. And that’s a good thing.
There is just one tiny little problem with that: It’s a short-term fix for a team that probably isn’t going to be very good this season and has a growing list of long-term holes that need to be addressed.
That’s probably bad.
Had the Steelers declined to match New England’s offer ($2.5 million) they would have received a third-round pick (No. 91 overall) in this month’s draft. Getting a third-round draft pick for a wide receiver — even a very good one — in a trade is probably more than fair value. Especially when the player in question has a resume like Sanders.
He’s still young, and he’s pretty good, but given what he’s actually done at the NFL level and the injury problems that have plagued him throughout his career, it’s unlikely another team would have offered more in a trade. The value was there.
The Steelers decided that Sanders was too important to the 2013 roster to lose, especially after they watched Mike Wallace leave in free agency and take his talents to the Miami Dolphins. Had they lost Sanders that would have left them with a wide receiver corps that consisted of Antonio Brown and whatever is left of Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress. Not exactly an exciting group.
Honestly, it’s really not that exciting even with Sanders back.
Even though it would have made the 2013 team weaker, they still should have let him go and taken the draft pick.
It seems very unlikely the Steelers are going to re-sign Sanders to a long-term contract extension which means he will probably leave after the 2013 season anyway. The Steelers’ cap situation remains a mess as they continue kicking the can down the road with restructures, and they rarely give wide receivers a second contract. The only examples over the past 20 years of the team signing a receiver to a new deal beyond his rookie contract are Hines Ward and Antonio Brown.
They didn’t do it for Plaxico Burress (his first time around with the team), they didn’t do it for Santonio Holmes, and they didn’t do it for Mike Wallace. The cap situation seems to make it so that even if they wanted to keep Sanders they probably won’t be able to do so, especially if he comes back with a big season in 2013, due to the continuing cap issues.
The possibility of this simply being a one-year return makes it more than a little difficult to swallow given how bad the 2013 team is shaping up to be.
The draft pick, which has the potential to be a contributor for the next four years, and perhaps be a part of the next Steelers team that is a true Super Bowl contender, might have had more value to the franchise than one year of Emmanuel Sanders on a team that’s probably only going to win six or seven games whether he returns or not.
Ask yourself this: How many wins is Sanders really worth? Is he going to be the difference between making the playoffs and missing them?
As the team sits now there remain many, many holes. They are still thin at wide receiver, have no running back, and have a tight end that won’t be ready for the start of the season (and will be 30 years old coming off a devastating knee injury when he does return). Once you get past Ben Roethlisberger the strongest part of the 2013 Steelers offense might in fact be its offensive line, and that’s a unit that has more question marks (Mike Adams, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert have potential, but we still don’t know how good they really are yet — and let’s not even talk about the left guard spot) than solid answers (Maurkice Pouncey).
And that’s to say nothing of a defense that has a stunning lack of depth at several positions and is still getting older in the secondary.
That’s a ton of holes to fill in one draft, and I don’t think it’s out of line to question how an 8-8 team that lost its best wide receiver, arguably its best cornerback, and its most talented running back is going to improve.
A late third-round pick is far from a guarantee, and the Steelers have had their share of misses in that round (Willie Reid and Anthony Smith come to mind), but they’ve also had a lot of success with picks in that range, including Chris Hope, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, and even Sanders himself.
You hate to give up on a season before it starts when you still have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but at some point the Steelers have to start thinking about the future.