Should the Pittsburgh Steelers wind up matching the one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet that restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders with the New England Patriots, all the discussion will then shift to the possibility of working out a long-term extension with him before the 2013 season.
Personally, I don\’t see an extension in his future.
First off, Sanders, much like Mike Wallace last season, will have over $2 million in his pocket and a potential breakout season ahead of him to improve his value. Not signing an extension this offseason would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Sure, it\’s a risk, but Wallace was rewarded big time for taking it, and I suspect Sanders is willing to take it as well.
Second, what the Steelers will be wanting to pay Sanders will not even come close to the $43.04 million contract that fellow Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown signed last offseason. While that total value might look big, it only included an $8.5 million signing bonus.
Sanders cap hit in 2013, should the Steelers indeed match the Patriots offer sheet, would be $2.5 million, and in my opinion, that would give him and his agent Jordan Woy pretty strong bargaining power with the Steelers, who have never been known to overspend on wide receivers.
Sanders has already been courted by another team merely being a restricted free agent with only 94 career receptions for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns in his first three seasons in the league. That bite of the free agent apple had to taste good and will likely taste even better should he increase his numbers in 2013.
Prior to and since placing the $1.323 million restricted tender on Sanders, the Steelers have most likely already explored the possibility of working out an extension with their former third-round draft pick. It would be pretty foolish if they haven\’t. I imagine, however, that those talks were short, if indeed they took place.
In addition to Sanders, the Steelers also need to be prepared to work out extensions next offseason with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey. In addition to them, linebacker Jason Worilds and defensive end Ziggy Hood are also both entering the final years of their rookie contracts this season. Should Worilds breakout like the Steelers hope that he will, they might be forced to use the franchise tag on him next offseason until an extension is worked out. That\’s the process that took place with LaMarr Woodley just a few years ago.
In short, Sanders is way down the pecking order as far as new contracts and available future money go. Unless he is willing to take peanuts in the form of guaranteed money, I suspect that he might be playing his final year in Pittsburgh should the Steelers match his offer sheet.