The Pittsburgh Steelers currently have three wide receivers in the form of Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and David Gilreath under contract for the 2013 season as we inch ever so slowly towards the free agency signing period. Mike Wallace, an unrestricted free agent, will most likely be off to greener pastures by the end of March, while Emmanuel Sanders, a restricted free agent, will most likely be tendered at an original round level of $1.323 million.
Once tendered, the Steelers will most likely try to sign Sanders to an extension, which will likely be lower than the one Brown signed during training camp last year. Just as a reminder, that extension was for 5 years, $42.5 million and included an $8.5 million signing bonus.
Sanders must decide if he wants a long-term deal at that point. He could take the sure guaranteed money or gamble on having a career season while playing on his one-year tender, and then try to test free agency in 2014 as an unrestricted free agent. Odds are that he will take the long-term deal, but you just never know.
So how much can the Steelers afford to offer Sanders? Based on the shape that they will most likely be in salary cap wise after tendering all of their restricted free agents, restructuring a few deals and possibly releasing a few other players currently under contract, the first year cap hit of a new deal for Sanders needs to be roughly $2 million or less.
The biggest factor in all new deals is the signing bonus, so I wouldn\'t expect anything more than $6.5 million on a four-year deal for Sanders. That would make his first year cap hit roughly around $2.255 million, which would be an increase of $932,000 over what his one-year tender would have been. Sanders also would likely received a year two guaranteed base salary along with a roster bonus to sweeten the deal, and in essence give roughly $10 million in guarantees if the contract is structured like I think it will be.
Sanders managed to make through a full season in 2012 without any problems after being slowed by feet and knee issues in 2011, so he doesn\'t appear to be an injury risk moving forward. He recorded 44 receptions for 626 yards and a touchdown in 2012 and the Steelers will need him to step up that production in 2013 with Wallace likely to playing in a different uniform.