When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers and WR Emmanuel Sanders, the difference between optimism and expectation seems to be about $1.2 million.
The Steelers have remained high on Sanders since selecting him in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, injuries and a crowded receiver corps have done their part to hinder his development as a professional receiver. However, with Mike Wallace taking his talents to the Miami Dolphins in free agency, Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El now both well retired and Sanders healthy as he's ever been, NFL.com's Around the League writers believe 2013 will be the year Sanders 'makes the leap' from underachiever to impact player.
He will need to if both he and the Steelers were serious about the team expecting him to produce 70 catches and 1,000 yards this year.
While such goals are not really lofty for a starting NFL receiver - even for a co-starter in an offense capable of over 4,000 yards per season - they do seem a bit excessive for a player whose career best totals from last season were barely more than half of those targets (44 catches and 626 yards).
Obviously in a team sport, championships are the only true way to appraise the success of a player's inclusion on the roster. Statistics come into play when individuals are separated from the team collective for the sake of external comparison. Yet, after matching the offer sheet Sanders signed with the New England Patriots which increased his salary from the $1.323 million to $2.5 million, the team evidently decided to set specific statistical expectations, if Sanders was accurate in his portrayal of the team establishing the expectations in the first place.
Interestingly enough, no touchdown reception goals were mentioned. Obviously if teams knew before hand who would be open in the end zone at any given time, red zone scoring efficiency rates would be much higher across the board.
Because the Steelers matched the offer sheet, Sanders is now committed to a contractual obligation for just this season. There is no consequential connection between the fiscal worth of his contract and the expectations set forth by the organization for this year. Either the team meant they believe he is capable of posting those types of numbers and thus why they matched the offer sheet, or the lofty goals were more like prerequisites for the team to consider offering Sanders a new contract next off-season.
If Sanders can 'make the leap' to meet the expectations placed before him, then he will be able to contemplate jumping ship because of how his statistics will benefit his market value. If he cannot, the team may ask him to walk the plank anyway.
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