With two games left in the 2013 regular season and the Pittsburgh Steelers playoff chances looking bleak, several soon-to-be unrestricted free agents are about to play their final downs in a black and gold uniform. One of those players is likely to be wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, but the SMU product said on Wednesday that he has no intentions of coasting in an effort to avoid a long-term injury that could lower his value come the start of free agency.
"I know if I finish the season healthy, a lot of people are going to come at me," Sanders said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "You know, I can shut it down right now if I wanted to, but why? I am going to give it my all every time I step out there."
Sanders, who also said stated that he that he would like to remain in Pittsburgh if possible, has already set career-highs this season in receptions (63), receiving yards (707) and touchdowns (5), and those numbers alone will ensure that he gets plenty of offers from teams once free agency starts. In addition, he has extra value as he can return both punts and kickoffs.
With the Steelers already having wide receivers Antonio Brown and rookie Markus Wheaton locked up long-term, they aren't expected to make a strong play to retain the services of Sanders as those salary cap dollars and guaranteed monies will be needed for a few other high priority unrestricted free agents.
While Sanders might not cash in to the degree that former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace did last offseason with the Miami Dolphins, he might get close. As you can see in the table below, Sanders is likely to be considered one of the top five unrestricted free agent wide receivers during the offseason. If he closes out the season with the Steelers with a couple of good performances, it certainly won't hurt his bank account.
However, with the above being said, don't be surprised if Sanders all of a sudden has a minor problem with that foot of his leading up to the season finale against the Cleveland Browns should the Steelers wind up being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention this Sunday. Last season, Wallace was placed on injured reserve with a hip injury in Week 17 after the Steelers were eliminated from the playoffs in Week 16. Sanders' intentions right now might be good, but he would stand to lose a lot of money should he wind up getting injured in a meaningless game to close out the season.
Top 2014 Unrestricted Free Agent Wide Receivers As Of Week 16