Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders nearly left the Pittsburgh Steelers last offseason, signing an offer sheet with the New England Patriots before the Steelers matched it to bring the restricted free agent back for another year.
After a productive 2013, it’s evident Sanders will probably not be in black and gold next season, as he can now sign with whomever he pleases and the Steelers are pressed right up against the salary cap with other needs to fill.
The NFL free agency period began at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and a pair of reports indicate that Sanders could very well suit up for one of the Steelers’ primary rivals in 2014. (Follow all free agent signings and rumors via FanSided’s handy tracker page.)
CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora tweeted this morning that the Cleveland Browns are in the mix to land Sanders, while Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com speculated that the Patriots’ past interest in the fourth-year pro could blossom again in the coming days.
Sanders has gradually increased his pass-catching prowess since being drafted in the third round out of SMU in 2010. The soon-to-be 27-year-old set career highs in receptions (67), targets (112) and touchdowns (six) last season, although his yards-per-catch average dropped to 11.0 from 14.2 in 2012.
However, that reduction is at least partially attributable to the Steelers’ focus on quicker throws and shorter completions. Either way, Sanders has proven himself able in different offensive styles, a flexibility that should be appealing on the open market.
At 5-foot-11, Sanders is a good fit as a second or third option who can take advantage of opponents’ focus being elsewhere. In that sense, he may be a better choice for the Patriots’ established offensive schemes as opposed to the Browns’ rebuilding strategy.
Keep it here on City of Champions for more coverage of NFL free agency from a Pittsburgh perspective.