By Jeremy Hritz
What can we expect from Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in the 2013 season? After being courted by the New England Patriots, Sanders signed an offer sheet that many believed the Steelers would not match. However, by the end of the matching deadline, Sanders had been retained, and the Steelers did not acquire an additional third round draft pick, to the chagrin of many in Steelers Nation.
The detrimental effects of Mike Wallace and his egocentrism are still fresh in the minds of his former teammates, coaches, and fans, and a repeat experience with Sanders has to be avoided at all costs. But could Sanders cause similar disruptions to Wallace of a year ago?
More than likely not.
While an extra third round pick was appealing, having a veteran receiver on board, especially in the wake of Wallace’s departure, was simply too important. Many questioned Sanders loyalty to the Steelers following his signing with the Patriots, but he did his best to make amends after discovering that the Patriots offer had been matched by saying, “Glad the business side is out of the way. Now it’s back to playing football and bringing number 7 back to Pittsburgh.”
Nearing the end of May, there are reports that Sanders and the Steelers are working on a contract extension, business that Sanders says he is not concerned about. His agent, as Dave Bryan pointed out earlier this week, Jordan Woy, has said that Sanders is willing to go the Wallace route and play out the season to become an unrestricted free agent next year.
If an extension is not reached, could this cause another headache for the Steelers? The even greater question is this: is Sanders even worth an extension?
While matching the Patriots offer says that the Steelers believe so, when looking at Sanders’ production during his first three seasons, there are some questions. Take a look at his career stats below:
2012 was Sanders most productive year, as he nearly doubled his output from 2010 and 2011, catching at least one pass in 15 out of 16 games. However, he did turn the football over twice, fumbling the football in consecutive weeks against the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens. Sanders did demonstrate that he can make the clutch catch on third downs, but he must also show that he can protect the football better.
Sanders has also had some health issues, specifically with his knee and foot, which limited his contributions in the 2011 season. Thankfully, he made it through all of 2012 without any major injuries. This must continue for Sanders to be a meaningful contributor in 2013.
Is Sanders a 1000-yard receiver worthy of a contract extension? Not yet. But can he put up those type of numbers in the upcoming season, especially one where he is playing for a contract? Most certainly.
It is not a stretch to forecast that Sanders will amplify his production this season based on his 2012 jump in catches and yardage. If he does have a solid statistical season, and if the Steelers have not yet extended his contract, Sanders will be as good as gone, which is why if they do want to keep him for the long haul, now is the time to make it happen.
If Sanders’ contract is extended, it will show that the Steelers believe in his ability. If they don’t, it may be a quiet endorsement of rookie Markus Wheaton.