Sanders' return unlikely but possible

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
8:55
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- Could medical concerns that appear to be why former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders remains unsigned lead him back to Pittsburgh?

Sanders
The Steelers have not ruled out the possibility of re-signing the fourth-year veteran. And if Sanders does not receive a long-term contract it would make sense for him to at least consider returning to the team where he knows the offense, the coaching staff, the quarterback and the city.

Do I think it's going to happen? Probably not.

Sanders was healthy enough to play every game the last two seasons and, as ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell pointed out, every team looks at medical reports and history through a different prism.

The question with Sanders isn't whether he will be able to continue playing -- and building on a season in which he established career-highs in receptions (67), receiving yards (740) and touchdowns (six). It is whether foot issues will significantly hamper him down the road and make it a risk to sign the 5-11, 180-pounder to a long-term deal.

All it takes is for one team is minimize that risk by signing Sanders to a four- or five-year deal and offering few guarantees in the latter part of the contract to push him out of the Steelers' range.

If Sanders is still in play for the Steelers after he has completed his visits with other teams they should consider bringing him back at the right price.

For all that has been made about how thin they are at defensive end and running back, the Steelers don't exactly have a surplus at wide receiver.

Pro Bowler Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton are the most experienced wide receivers on the roster, and the latter played just 153 snaps as a rookie and caught six passes for 64 yards.

Wheaton has a lot of similarities to Sanders -- both are smaller but speedy wideouts -- and the Steelers expect the former third-round pick to make a big jump in his second season. But there are no guarantees and Sanders would provide security if Wheaton doesn't develop as quickly as the Steelers hope.

Even if the Steelers brought back Sanders and re-signed 10th-year veteran Jerricho Cotchery, they could find ways to use Wheaton more than they did in 2013.

And having too many players at a position is a much better problem than having too few of them.

Sanders probably isn't going to return and make for a potential crowd at wide receiver, especially if the Steelers draft a player at the position early.

But it can't be ruled out either given that his free-agency tour has so far yielded nothing more than frequent flyer miles.

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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