Found April 11, 2013 on SteelBlitz Steelers Blog:
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With Emmanuel Sanders potentially leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers for the New England Patriots as a restricted free agent the Steelers would be left very thin at receiver. Mike Wallace, the Steelers number one receiver in 2012, already left earlier in free agency to sign with the Miami Dolphins. Sanders served as the Steelers third receiver in 2012 which would means the team is in danger of losing two of their top three receiving targets from last season. During his career Ben Roethlisberger has averaged around 265 completions per season. In 2012 Sanders and Wallace combined for 108 receptions. That would account for around forty percent of Roethlisberger’s completions in a normal year when he is healthy for all sixteen games. That’s a lot of production to lose in one off-season and is sure to make Steelers’ fans and Roethlisberger a bit iffy moving forward. Sanders deal with the Patriots is for one year and $2.5 million. If the Steelers chose to match they would be left with less than $1 million in cap space. Therefore, to match and have the room to add other free agents they would have to make a corresponding move. Possibilities would be to restructure or extend a contract to clear up some space for the 2013 season. They could also look to cut a veteran player. The most logical option there would be defensive end Brett Keisel. Cutting Keisel would save the team almost $3 million and they have Cameron Heyward waiting in the wings to start. On the other hand, the Steelers could also choose to let Sanders go. In that case they would receiver the Patriots third round pick as compensation. That pick is the 91st overall pick in the upcoming draft. Along with the draft pick the Steelers would also save $1.3 million in cap space which is currently counted against the cap for Sanders restricted free agent tender. Another thing to keep in mind is matching the deal would give the Steelers one year of control on Sanders. They would likely look to sign him long-term, but if they were unable to there is a chance he could leave after the 2013 season. However, that third round draft pick would be under team control for three to four years. Now let’s assume that the Steelers decide to let Sanders leave and move forward with the extra cap space and third round pick. If that happens here are three potential routes the Steelers could take in free agency and the draft to reload the team with play-makers for the 2013 season: 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.  
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