The New England Patriots have signed free agent WR Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for whom Sanders previously played, now have until Sunday to decide whether or not to let Sanders walk and receive a third round pick in return, or to match the offer that New England has put on the table, which is one year at $2.5 million. No matter what the Steelers decide to do with Sanders, I think it has become abundantly clear that both the Patriots and Steelers, two of the top teams in the AFC for the better part of the last decade, have fallen back to Earth.
After the loss of Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos early in free agency, and the decision to part ways with deep-threat Brandon Lloyd essentially decimated the wide receiver core in New England, it appears that the team has entered a "desperation mode" mentality. They went out and signed Danny Amendola to be a replacement for Welker, which on the surface seems to be a good deal. Amendola has been a serviceable receiver in the NFL, who was on his way to a career-best season last year before breaking his clavicle. However, Amendola is incredibly injury prone, suffering season-ending injuries in each of the last two seasons. Any time you lose your best receiver and attempt to replace him with a player that has dependability issues, it's a net loss. I don't care how much potential that player has, if he can't stay on the field, it doesn't do you a lick of good. In addition to Amendola, they have signed free agent Michael Jenkins, and Donald Jones. New England has also re-signed reserve WR and special teams stand-out Julian Edelman. Michael Jenkins has been around the NFL for ten years and has never managed even 800 yards in any one season. Donald Jones, while in the league only three years, has never produced more than 443 yards in a season. It's pretty clear that the Patriots have a pretty dire situation at the wide-out position.
The Steelers' situation appears to be just as dire as New England's. If they allow Sanders to leave, they will be left with Antonio Brown as their only competent wide receiver. After the departure of Mike Wallace to the Miami Dolphins, the only other receivers with any experience currently on their roster are an ancient (by NFL standards) Plaxico Burress; an aging receiver who has only once broken 1,000 yards in Jerricho Cotchery, and a virtual unknown in David Gilreath who has never caught a pass in his two seasons in the NFL. If they do bring Sanders back, it doesn't improve their situation all that much either. Sanders has always been a third option, at best, in his three years in Pittsburgh. Sanders does have a lot of speed though, which is highly coveted in today's NFL and likely means that he would command a high salary when he left in free agency after the season. Either way, Sanders will not be in a Steelers uniform beyond this season. It may be in the best interest of the franchise if they were to allow him to leave now and get a third round pick in return, rather than to sign him for a year and let him leave without receiving any compensation.
With the free agent market all but dried up at the wide receiver position, if these teams do not address their issues in the upcoming draft, I think it's safe to say that the AFC's two dominant teams won't be so dominant anymore. Things should be wide open this season, giving teams who have managed to improve their situations (such as Miami) a real chance to overtake them, which gives fans like me hope.
Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.