Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have extended third year wide receiver Antonio Brown and restricted free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace is nowhere to be seen as of yet, several are asking if an extension for fellow third year wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be next on the to-do list to extend prior to the start of the regular season.
Even if Wallace decides to stay away until week 11, so as he can qualify for his accrued season towards free agency, I would be surprised if the Steelers extended Sanders prior to the start of the regular season. Is it a possibility? Yes, but you have to look at the decision to do so from several different angles as to why I do not think it will happen.
First, is Sanders worthy yet of an extension? As talented as he is, and with the ceiling still very high for him, he has to prove that he can be productive and stay healthy for an entire season. Head coach Mike Tomlin said this past offseason that Sanders is a concern from a health standpoint and he is right. In two seasons now, Sanders has compiled just 50 catches for 664 yards to go along with 4 touchdowns. That is not very worthy of an extension, especially when you add in the fact that he couldn\’t stay on the field last year.
Second, even if Sanders proves he can stay on the field and become the wide receiver that most of us believe that he become, he will still be a restricted free agent after the season and thus easily retained with an original round or higher restricted tender. His production in 2012 will decide ultimately what level that tender that will be. Once he passes through free agency, and he certainly would, negotiations can then begin on a new long-term deal.
Third, should he be extended this year, his cap hit in 2012 would increase from the $735,357.00 he is already scheduled to count this season, and on top of that, his 2013 cap hit would more than likely be higher than the first year number it would be next year should the Steelers wait, depending of course on the structure of base salaries and any second year workout or roster bonuses that could be included in the deal. Having year two of a new contract being in 2014, when the salary cap is expected to increase, makes much more sense at this point.
Now, the only way that I see it possible that a Sanders extension gets done prior to the start of this regular season, is if Sanders will take an incredibly low value deal, and I mean a real low value deal. Even then, the Steelers would be risking whatever is given him in a way of a signing bonus as future dead money should Sanders not be able to stay healthy. Why would Sanders take such a low value deal anyways when he can make much more with a productive 2012?
In summation, it is smart for both sides to hold off on any contract talks until next offseason, as the Steelers want to first see if Sanders is worth investing in long-term, and Sanders wants to increase his value in addition. The worst thing that can happen is that Sanders has a monster year and refuses to sign whatever tender offer is given him just like Wallace did this year. To get to that point though, Sanders needs that monster year. Would that be a bad thing? Absolutely not. If the Steelers want to retain Sanders next year, they will easily be able to do so.