Found April 14, 2013 on SteelBlitz Steelers Blog:
According to reports the Pittsburgh Steelers are torn on whether or not to match the New England Patriots offer for Emmanuel Sanders. If they choose to match the deal they will bring back Sanders on a one year deal worth $2.5 million and he would be expected to move up on the depth chart as the Steelers number two receiver behind Antonio Brown. However, if they choose not to bring him back they will have only one member of the promising “Young Money Crew” left on the roster. With only a little under $3.3 million in cap space to match a deal to Sanders the Steelers would leave themselves with very little cap room if they match the deal. They will have another $4 million in cap space available in June via the release of Willie Colon, but that money will need to be used to sign their draft picks. If the Steelers want to sign any other free agents, such as running back Ahmad Bradshaw who they have shown interest in, they would likely have to make a corresponding roster move to open up cap space to do so. On the other hand, the Steelers could allow Sanders to leave take the Patriots third round pick as compensation and use their leftover $3.3 million in cap space to make moves like signing Bradshaw. Most fans, based on voting from other Steelers sites, are ready to let Sanders leave. An extra third round pick is intriguing and the four years of control on a drafted player versus one year of Sanders seems to have more value along with more cap space. Ben Roethlisberger, however, would like to have Sanders back and limit the turnover at the wide receiver position after already losing his top target from 2012 when Mike Wallace signed with the Miami Dolphins earlier this off-season. As of now it seems 50/50 whether the Steelers will choose to match Sanders offer and it’s hard to predict what they are thinking. For the sake of looking forward we will assume the Steelers decide not to match Sanders deal and look at options for reloading the offense: 1.) Use the Pick to Draft Sanders’ Replacement This is the option that most are expecting if the Steelers allow Sanders to walk. They will receive the Patriots third round pick and many expect they would simply take that pick and draft a receiver to replace Sanders. Potential players they could draft with that pick include West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey, Baylor’s Terrance Williams or Marshall’s Aaron Dobson. If the Steelers go this route they would have to hope to strike gold with that pick and hope that the player they select is able to contribute from day one. 2.) Draft a Tight End in the First Round This one might not make sense. Why replace a receiver with a tight end? Well, Tyler Eifert out of Notre Dame was one of the best players at the NFL Combine and Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who was at the combine said he was most impressed by Eifert. During his time at Notre Dame Eifert lined up at multiple positions including receiver. At the combine Eifert ran a 4.68 forty yard dash. Keenan Allen, who is compared to Anquan Boldin, could go in the first round and ran a 4.71 at his pro day. The issue some have is: what do you do with Eifert when Heath Miller comes back from his knee injury? Well, the Steelers used two tight ends 37 percent of the time in 2012. Todd Haley loves to use two tight end sets and with Miller and Eifert he would have two very good receiving tight ends to work with. Also, when Miller returns the Steelers could still use Eifert out wide especially in the red zone. Over the past few years one of the biggest issues with the Steelers offense has been scoring in the red zone. A possible reason for that is the height the team has at receiver. Before signing the 6’5″ Plaxico Burress mid-season last year the Steelers tallest receiver was 6’0″ Mike Wallace. Burress is back and Miller also stands at 6’5″; add Eifert at 6’6″ to that group and the Steelers would have a mismatch against almost every defense in the league in the red zone. 3.) Sign a Running Back and Double-Dip at Receiver in the Draft This is the option that seems most likely if the Steelers decide to let Sanders walk. They are scheduled to meet with ex-Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw a second time before the draft. With the cap savings by letting Sanders walk they could take that money and use it to sign Bradshaw. During the 2012 season Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman both played well when the offensive line wasn’t beat up. Bradshaw would add another starting option to the group and they still have Baron Batch as a third down back. With Bradshaw added to the running back group the Steelers could wait until the sixth round to go running back and instead use two early picks on wide receiver rather than one on a receiver and one on a running back. That would allow them to replace Sanders and Wallace and hope that at least one of those players is able to contribute in year one. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Steelers are in need of a return man after cutting Chris Rainey. Antonio Brown is a very good returner, but the Steelers probably won’t risk him getting hurt returning kicks now that he is the team’s top receiving option. That hole means the Steelers will likely look for a receiver that can contribute on offense and special teams in 2013. 4.) Use the Cap Space to sign Two Veterans and Use the Draft Pick to Fill a Need This option may be unlikely, but there are still some solid veteran players looking for jobs on the free agent market. Perhaps the Steelers could let Sanders go to the Patriots and replace him with a player that played in New England in 2012. Brandon Lloyd is a veteran receiver that has the speed to take the top off of the defense, but also has great hands and would bring a solid receiving option to the Steelers offense. Lloyd is still looking for a job and likely won’t sign until after the NFL Draft, but if he is willing to play for around $1-1.5 million in 2013 he could be a nice stop-gap at wide receiver for the Steelers. Pittsburgh would also have the cap space to bring in Ahmad Bradshaw on a similarly small deal for one season. Letting Sanders walk also gives them an extra draft pick and with Bradshaw and Lloyd on the roster they would have the ability to possibly focus on drafting a running back or receiver later on and grooming them for a year and use their early picks on filling more pressing needs such as safety, linebacker and receiver or running back whichever position they believe is the more pressing need. This scenario would also allow them to focus on drafting the best players at each selection rather than reaching for needs which they may have to do to fill the receiver position if they lose both Sanders and Wallace to free agency.   As things stand now the Steelers have about ten hours until a decision must be made on Sanders. However, we will likely know the outcome of this situation prior to the 11:59:59 PM deadline tonight.
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