This post could be moot in a matter of hours, as Emmanuel Sanders is meeting with the 49ers Saturday and could sign with them or another team any moment. But Sanders has now visited four teams since the start of free agency. He first stopped in Jacksonville, then Tampa Bay, then Kansas City, and now San Francisco. ESPN is reporting that teams are concerned about the foot surgery he had a few years ago, which is preventing them from risking too much money to sign him.
Golden Tate, probably the most comparable receiver to Sanders on the market this year, signed a $31M deal including $13M guaranteed with the Lions. I think it's pretty clear that Sanders is not getting that type of offer, as I'm sure he would've signed with a team already if that kind of money were on the table.
This is exactly the time the Steelers should swoop in with an offer to Sanders. A one year deal with incentives would be perfect for both sides. The Steelers would get a starting-caliber receiver for a relatively cheap salary; while Sanders would get a chance to prove he's healthy and increase his open market value with a QB and offense with which he's already familiar.
In a somewhat surprising turn of events, a lot of players across the league have been signing these "prove it" deals. BJ Raji, Hakeem Nicks, and even Darrelle Revis, among others, have signed one year deals, hoping to increase their value and hit the market again next year.
That Hakeem Nicks contract is the most interesting in Sanders' case. His deal is worth $3.5M with the Colts and includes incentives for possibly more. I would try to offer Sanders a contract that is worth up to $3.5M, not more than that. The reason being that Sanders' value is clearly not quite there since he remains unsigned.
Nicks has shown to be the better receiver when healthy, as he has had two seasons with at least 1,000 yards and 7 TDs. Manny hasn't broken either of those marks yet in his career. Sanders' agent will point to the fact that he hasn't missed a game since 2011, while Nicks has missed 4 in that time. But like I said teams are apparently still worried about his feet, so the injury concerns are comparable in my opinion.
This brings me to Jerricho Cotchery, whom the Steelers are still interested in signing. If you're strictly speaking touchdown production, Cotchery had a much better year than Sanders (10 to Sanders' 6). But Cotchery is 31 while Sanders is only 26, so the upside lies with Sanders. If the money is comparable, the Steelers should bank on Sanders being motivated enough to have his best year yet to try to get his long term deal in 2015.
At this point, the Steelers should offer Sanders one year for around $2M with incentives for more, and if he doesn't sign give the deal to Cotchery.