Prior to the 2013 season, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was signed to an offer sheet by the New England Patriots. The Pittsburgh Steelers matched the price and kept the young receiver from wearing any other colors besides the back and gold.
It was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who pushed for Sanders to remain on the team. After Mike Wallace left, Big Ben’s arsenal was dwindling and having Sanders slip away would’ve been costly.
Now the 2013 season is in the books and Sanders will return to the free agency market. This time around don’t expect Roethisberger to be lobbying for Sanders to stay put. Keeping Sanders around for this season wasn’t a bad idea but now he’s very replaceable.
Sanders this season had 67 receptions, 740 yards and six touchdowns. Sanders was greatly outdone by Antonio Brown who had a tremendous season and Sanders was also behind veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Cotchery at age 31 reeled in four more touchdowns than Sanders and became one of Roethlisberger’s most reliable receivers.
Speaking of reliable, Sanders fell below that line. A defining moment for Sanders this season came against the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night.
A crucial divisional game with big-time playoff implications down the line and Sanders let a two point conversion fall through his hands.
After battling from behind, the Steelers put themselves in position to tie the game on a two point conversion. The call was a back shoulder pass to Sanders. No doubt it was a tough pass to throw and a tough pass to catch but Roethlisberger put the ball where he needed to and Sanders failed to snag it.
I’m not basing Sanders entire season off just one missed catch but after your quarterback insisted that you needed to stay put, you better help him out when he needs it. Sanders couldn’t come up with that clutch play and never really found a groove all season long.
Sanders is likely to walk next season. Some team will sweep him off the free agency market and Steelers shouldn’t be worried about losing him. He’s very much replaceable.
Markus Wheaton now has a season under his belt and he’s more than capable of filling Sanders’ shoes. Wheaton didn’t see a whole lot of action this past season and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This gives Wheaton time to digest the Steelers’ offense. Wheaton’s going to be sliding into a larger roll next season, especially if/when Sanders departs.
Other prospects include Justin Brown and Derek Moye who saw some playing time this season.
Along with Wheaton, J. Brown and Moye, the Steelers will probably look to the NFL draft to pick-up another receiver. A lot of early mock-drafts have the Steelers eyeing Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans in the first round.
I don’t believe the Steelers need to be grabbing a receiver in the first round but should they take that route and select Evans he’s another receiver that would be able to fill the void left by Sanders.
Sanders didn’t meet expectations this season and with other options out there, Sanders’ time in the Steel City is up.