Steelers had no choice but to keep Sanders

April, 15, 2013
4/15/13
9:30
AM ET
The Pittsburgh Steelers matched the New England Patriots' one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, and they really didn't have a decision to make.

If the Steelers intend to bounce back from last season's disappointing 8-8 season, they had to keep Sanders. There's already question marks in the passing game after wide receiver Mike Wallace signed with Miami and tight end Heath Miller tore his ACL in the second-to-last regular-season game. It's not like the Steelers can rely more on their running game because they lack a proven featured back.

Some suggested the Steelers should let Sanders go to New England and take the third-round pick as compensation. Remember the Patriots are picking at the bottom of the third round, so this doesn't have the same value as if Carolina or St. Louis had put in the offer sheet. The Steelers might get a compensatory pick in the same area of the third round next year for Wallace.

And, if the Steelers lost Sanders, who would they be left with at wide receiver? Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, Plaxico Burress and David Gilreath. I think I had Cotchery or Burress on my fantasy football team in 2008 but I wouldn't want them as a No. 2 receiver in 2013. The Steelers may not be sold on either one being a No. 3, which is why they still could take a wide receiver early in the draft.

Yes, the Steelers did have to spend precious salary-cap dollars to keep Sanders. The price, though, was right. If the Steelers had put a second-round tender on Sanders (which may have stopped the Patriots from making an offer sheet), they would've paid him $2.02 million. So, that miscalculation cost less than a half-million to hold onto a receiver they have invested three years to develop. It's true that Sanders could leave after this season. But matching the tender also buys Pittsburgh some time.

I expect the Steelers to try to sign Sanders to an extension, even though his agent told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that it would take a "a very good deal" for him to sign a long-term deal. He's a good fit in the Steelers' offense run by Todd Haley. He is probably a better fit than Wallace. Sanders doesn't have the same straight-line speed as Wallace (few do), but he has great quickness and is better than Wallace at generating yards after the catch.

Sanders, 26, caught a career-high 44 passes in 2012, doubling his production from the previous season. He is starting to show promise now that he's healthy. The Steelers needed to keep Sanders. It was a no-brainer.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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