Ed: Steelers Blew it on Both Sanders, Harrison

MONDAY, 15 APRIL 2013 08:39 WRITTEN BY ED BOUCHETTE

Good morning,

Well, the Steelers blew it. No, not necessarily by matching the $2.5 million contract Emmanuel Sanders signed as a restricted free agent wit the New England Patriots – although my opinion against matching was written here last week – but by not tendering him a larger one-year contract in the first place.

Had the Steelers tendered Sanders a $2 million offer as an RFA, a team would have had to give up a second-round draft pick to get him, and that was much less likely to happen. By tendering him a $1.3 million deal, the Steelers not only let everyone know that’s what they thought Sanders was worth, but also that they would be willing to take a third-round pick for him.

In the end, they got neither.

Now that they’ve matched, let’s look where they stand:

--- Their wide receiving group is not decimated and they actually could go into the 2013 season with what they have – Sanders, Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress. They also have a few youngsters, headed by David Gilreath.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley does not use many four-wide formations, so that could be enough. Nevertheless, they still no doubt will draft someone.

--- They have to draft someone because Burress is old and he, Cotchery and Sanders all will have their contracts expire at the end of the 2013 season.

--- The Steelers are left with roughly $800,000 in salary cap room. That’s not enough to sign someone like Ahmad Bradshaw. If they want to do that, they’ll have to create more room by pushing yet more cap accounting into the future, such as reworking the deal of Troy Polamalu, who turns 32 on Friday.

--- Now, the Steelers can try to protect their investment in Emmanuel Sanders, which cost them the 91st pick in this draft, by keeping him longer than the one season in which he is now under contract. They can negotiate now, and sign the deal after June, when they get the $5.5 million cap space from Willie Colon’s contract. They signed Antonio Brown last August to a six-year, $43 million contact with an $8.5 million signing bonus after Mike Wallace turned them down. Must they offer Sanders that much in order for him not to enter free agency in 2014? Probably. Brown was two years from becoming a UFA when he signed, Sanders is only one year away. Plus, he saw how it worked out for Wallace and he could be just as willing to roll the dice.

--- Sanders comes out of this the big winner. There was little gamble for him by signing with the Patriots. He nearly doubled his salary for 2013 and would either catch passes from Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady.

--- In the end, the Steelers matched Sanders contract because had they not it would have again appeared they were giving up on the 2013 season, an opinion that already is popular among their fans. This at least temporarily stops the talent drain that has been going on since the beginning of March.

Onto some stuff:

--- By many reports, it appears James Harrison will sign a contract this week with the Cincinnati Bengals. That’s a lose/lose for both the Steelers and Harrison. The linebacker turned down the demand by the Steelers that he take a paycut from his $6.57 million salary. Their highest offer, according to one source, was $3.7 million for 2013 in a straight salary. He might get half that from the Bengals.

--- The Bengals want to put Harrison on the strong or left side of their 4-3 defense. The outside linebackers in a 4-3, drop into coverage more than they rush the passer, which is the primary job of the ends in that defensive set. Harrison can cover and he can stop the run, but his forte is rushing the passer and he did it in a 3-4 defense from the right side – the predominantly weak side. That sounds like putting a fish out of water.

--- The Steelers had two other restricted free agents whom I thought were vulnerable to being signed – projected starting nose tackle Steve McLendon and halfback Isaac Redman. Neither would have required compensation with the Steelers only maintaining their right to match any signed offer sheet. How much is a starting nose tackle worth?

--- Onto your questions:

--- YOU: I'm worried that Sanders has a bit of a breakout year (a la Keenan Lewis) and the Steelers wind up losing him anyway. Do you think the Steelers try to sign him to - say - a 4-year deal to guard against this? Also, how much longer until we find out about Bradshaw's foot?
ME: I’m sure they will try to sign him before the 2013 season to a longer term. Ahmad Bradshaw reportedly will visit the Steelers a second time before the draft.

--- YOU: How much if any impact do you think B.R. had in the Steelers’ decision to keep Sanders.
ME: I’m sure they took Ben Roethlisberger’s opinion into account, but his coaches may have had the most influence on keeping him. Ben was probably preaching to the choir if he made his pitch to Mike Tomlin. It was the front office they needed to convince to match.

--- YOU: Ed, now that they have signed Sanders to the offer sheet, does this indicate he may have a long term deal coming before the season and if so, does that help or hurt them on the salary cap? Last question....does this pretty much squash a WR in the first round?
ME: I wrote the pros and cons to getting a long-term deal done above, but no it does not squash the idea they could still draft a receiver in the first round.

--- YOU: What do the Steelers management see that most of us die hard fans don't? Even if he turns out to be worth the money THIS year, how could he ever be worth the money he will command next year whether he is with the Steelers or not? Is this not mortgaging the future for the futile present? This one is hard to swallow, I have not been this disappointed since the decision to hire Tomlin over Grimm.
ME: Many questions, no firm answers.

--- YOU: Okay, let's turn this around on you--YOU are Kevin Colbert. Would you take a mid-round chance on Marcus Lattimore? Kid has incredible character and drive. He'd be a risk, and a long-term investment...but what a potential upside. If so, what round?
ME: It depends on what I draft in the first couple of rounds. I would take him in the fourth.

--- YOU: i was imagining sitting tight with their pick in the first round and then maybe trying to trade back into the end of the first round and maybe grab lacey. it would seem that the cost of trying to trade up is far far less than in years past. i think they need all the playmakers they can get on offense. if they could come away with eifert, patterson, and/or lacey on the first day, i think us steeler fans would hold off on the talk of the armageddon.
ME: It will be hard for teams to trade back in the first round this year, not that it cannot be done. There’s really no reason for them to trade higher in the round.

--- One YOU are Kevin Colbert today:

--- Round 1 – Given the drop off after the first 5-10 picks, I would pick ‘for need’ as anybody is technically a reach given the parity between picks 10-40 or so. We need a player to start so I would go with offense and pick a RB or WR (especially with Sanders’ imminent departure) or perhaps a TE given the evolution at that position

Round 2 – If no WR in first round, find the best WR with speed. If not, find a LB, S, or RB.

Round 3 – Best available players with our 2 picks to fill the RB, LB, S, NT voids”

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