We’ll know no later than Sunday night whether the Steelers will be matching the offer sheet signed by receiver Emmanuel Sanders with the Patriots.
There’s no reason to take that long. The Steelers should accept a third-round pick and bid Sanders adieu.
The Steelers have shown a recent knack for finding receivers in the latter rounds of the draft. Sanders came via the third round in 2010. Mike Wallace was discovered in round three one year earlier. And Antonio Brown, the team’s MVP in 2011, was a sixth-round pick in 2010.
So instead of paying Sanders $2.5 million for one more year and then watching him walk away in free agency, the Steelers should roll the dice on the 91st pick in the draft and move on. They’ll have the player for four years, at not much more money than it would cost to keep Sanders for one more season. (The 91st overall selection in the 2012 draft — Falcons offensive lineman Lamar Holmes — will make a total of $2.63 million through 2015.)
Besides, the Steelers claim to be morphing into a running team. So why pay to keep Sanders for one more year when that draft pick perhaps will help the Steelers get younger at a position that could improve their running game?
As former Pats V.P. of player personnel Scott Pioli suggested during a recent edition of Pro Football Talk on NBC Sports Network, the Patriots may have negotiated the offer sheet with an eye toward signing Sanders in 2014, if the Steelers choose to match. The Pats will have gotten Sanders a $1.2 million raise, and he’ll likely be grateful for that come next year.
Still, the timing of the offer reflects at least a plausible belief by the Pats that it won’t be matched. If the Steelers pass, Sanders becomes a member of the team on the same day the offseason program launches.
The Steelers should pass. A year from now, they’ll be glad they did.