Emmanuel Sanders to the Steelers makes sense for both parties

Former Steelers wide receiver #88 Emmanuel Sanders (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Former Steelers wide receiver #88 Emmanuel Sanders (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Emmanuel Sanders enjoyed success with Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers once before. Why not let him bolster the receiving corps?

He left the Steelers, dressed for three other teams, and pulled in passes from and won a championship with a quarterbacking icon. Now, it’s time the wideout comes full circle.

An 11-year veteran, Emmanuel Sanders was released by New Orleans last week. With JuJu Smith-Schuster and his Twitch streams indicating his parting in free agency, a spot is likely to be left blank on Pittsburgh’s receiving depth chart. Despite dated reports of a tenuous personal rapport with Ben Roethlisberger, Sanders could fill this spot and help steady Pittsburgh’s young room of pass-catchers.

Turning 34 later this week, Sanders demonstrated last season that he’s fully capable of providing reliable production and a mature presence. While Michael Thomas rested an ailing ankle, he stepped up for Drew Brees, leading the Saints’ receiving corps in catches (61), receiving yards (726), and scores (5).

Sanders is a familiar face. He was selected by Mike Tomlin in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft and began his time in the league getting set beside the likes of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. When the speedy Wallace headed off to dress for Miami following the 2012 campaign, the Steelers thought highly enough of Sanders not to let him depart for New England that same offseason.

In all, Sanders played four seasons in the black and gold. He caught 161 passes for 2,030 yards and 11 touchdowns. His final year as a Steeler, with 67 receptions, 740 yards, and 6 scores, was also his best. The ten starts he tallied during that 2013 season were enough to convince Denver that he could line up opposite Demaryius Thomas in Peyton Manning’s offense.

Since leaving for the Rocky Mountains, Sanders has grown into and remained a dependable target. In back-to-back seasons during his time in Denver, he tied with Thomas for the team’s lead in receiving scores. In 2018, Sanders was Case Keenum’s primary option, pacing the Broncos in receptions, receiving yardage, and touchdown catches.

He was shipped to San Francisco seven games into the next schedule but managed to finish 2nd on the year in the three major receiving categories for both franchises. He capped the year with three catches for 38 yards as the 49ers fell short in Super Bowl LIV.

Possibly, the two-time Pro Bowler will be inexpensive enough for the Steelers to import from the free agency pool. The former Steeler would add depth and, with considerably more experience snaring passes from Roethlisberger, could help alongside talented receivers such as Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson.

Roethlisberger is well aware that the clock is ticking. Surely, he could overlook remarks made years ago if it boosted his chances of riding into the sunset with another Lombardi.

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Emmanuel Sanders is a proven weapon that can help Roethlisberger win now. With the drama that followed the receiving room last season, the Steelers could use him.