Revisiting the Steelers decision to resign Sanders in 2013

Jared Wickerham

In 2013, the Steelers decided to match the Patriots offer sheet for Restricted Free Agent Emmanuel Sanders. In hindsight that may have looked like the wrong choice to make, but the Steelers made the right decision.

The news that Emmanuel Sanders has singed with the Denver Broncos on a 3 year $15 million dollar contract has resurrected the discussion over the Steelers decision to match the Patriots offer sheet for Sanders during the 2013 NFL  free agency.

At the end of the 2012 season, Sanders became a Restricted free agent. The Steelers accordingly gave him an original round tender, meaning that if he were to sign it it would become a one year $1.32 million dollar contract. It also meant that if another team signed Sanders, the Steelers would receive that teams 3rd round pick (because that was the round Sanders was drafted in in 2010).

As it happened the New England Patriots offered Sanders a contract worth $2.5 million, and the Steelers had a decision to make. They decided to match Patriots offer and signed Sanders to a one year deal worth $2.5 million (thus not receiving the Patriots 3rd round pick).

In the wake of a disappointing 8-8 season that did not result in a play-off berth, and Sanders leaving the Steelers this off-season,  many appear upset that the Steelers decided not to let Sanders go a year earlier and receive a 3rd round pick in the process.

The basic argument is why miss out on a highly valuable draft pick when you know it will be virtually impossible to resign him next season, especially when the Steelers didn't even make the play-offs?

Well the answer to the question above is really pretty simple, and invokes the age old principle of "hindsight is 20/20".

At the time, the Steelers considered themselves a legitimate play-off calibre team. It was not in anyone's interest to lose a valuable, productive piece of the offense before the season had even begun. Especially at a position that ,after the departure of Mike Wallace, was pretty thin on quality depth.

Sanders was a good receiver, the fact that Bill Belichick attempted to poach him should be evidence enough. His 740 yards and 6 TD's in 2103 may not have set the world on fire but he was a valuable no 2 receiver.  He was also familiar with the offensive system and had working chemistry with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, to the extent that Ben himself lobbied for Sanders retention.

In addition, if Sanders were allowed to leave, what guarantee is there that any rookie receiver could have replaced his production? The answer is absolutely none. For a team that considered itself a contender, that is simply too much of a risk to take.

Yes, it would have been wonderful to accrue an extra 3rd round pick last year, and the fact the Steelers missed the play-offs is unfortunate, as is losing  Sanders with no compensation.

But all things considered the front office absolutely made the right call in keeping Sanders another year. If the Steelers were faced with that same situation 1000 times over, the right moved would be to match the Patriots offer sheet every single time.

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