The Pittsburgh Steelers Should Extend Emmanuel Sanders Now

By J.D. Burke
Emmanuel Sanders
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Not that the Pittsburgh Steelers were presented with a real choice, but they made the right one regardless in finding a way to keep Emmanuel Sanders rather than Mike Wallace. It was difficult, due in large part to a $2.5 million offer sheet to Sanders courtesy of the New England Patriots, but Kevin Colbert didn’t buckle and matched their offer. Sure, in this era of high paid NFL stars, $2.5 million may seem like peanuts, but to a cap-strapped team like the Steelers, that was the difference between Plaxico Burress or Jericho Cotchery starting at wide receiver… or Emmanuel Sanders.

Now that they have him signed through next season, it’s time they got an extension worked out. If not now, the price could rise significantly and they won’t be able to sign him or even cash in on the third-round pick that they would’ve acquired from New England had they not matched the offer sheet. Sanders will just walk in free agency.

The reason his price tag will go up has a lot to do with his taking over Wallace’s starting position opposite Antonio Brown, but has more to do with his style of play than anything. Sanders is built for Todd Haley‘s “dink-and-dunk” pass attack and should see a huge increase in his role with the offensive gameplan as a result. With this increased playing time will come increased production; with increased production will come an increased price tag.

What makes Sanders a perfect fit in Haley’s offense is his intelligence as a route-runner and ability to make plays in space. While Wallace provided big-play ability any time he was on the field, he was far from reliable as a route-runner and struggled mightily last season catching the football — I’ve heard this is kind of an important part of playing receiver. Sanders didn’t outperform Wallace on the basic stats sheet, the underlying numbers are a different story. Sanders was catching nearly seven percent more of the throws directed at him than Wallace last season, and averaged nearly a yard more on average after making receptions.

Now just imagine what Sanders will be able to do as a starting receiver with a year of experience in Haley’s system? It’s best they find a reasonable number and agree to a long-term deal now, before Sanders performs his way out of the Steelers’ price range.

You can follow J.D. Burke on Twitter @JDBurkeOV

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