Robinson: WR Sanders still pleased to be a Steeler

Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders catches a pass in front of the Chiefs' Kendrick Lewis during the second quarter Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 at Heinz Field.
Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders catches a pass in front of the Chiefs' Kendrick Lewis during the second quarter Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013 at Heinz Field.
Photo by Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
| Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 10:51 p.m.

Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders was greeted by an unexpected sound not long after the NFL restricted free agent signing period began March 12.

A ringing telephone.

Signing restricted free agents long since fell out of vogue, partly because the player's current team can match what is only a one-year offer. Teams almost always prefer to bring in new players under multiyear contracts.

“It was definitely weird because my agent (Jordan Woy) was saying nobody was messing around with restricted free agents, and then two or three teams called the day free agency started,” Sanders said. “It felt good to be wanted.”

It probably didn't feel as good — Sanders won't confirm it — when the Steelers made their starting receiver-to-be only a $1.3 million mid-level tender, or $1.2 million less than they could have offered.

The Steelers were tight against the salary cap, and they gambled — incorrectly, as it turned out — that no team would make an offer to Sanders, who has 94 catches for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns in three seasons.

Surprise! The Patriots, attempting to rebuild one of the NFL's premier offenses, made Sanders a $2.5 million offer that was the first to a restricted free agent in three years.

For a few days, Sanders wasn't sure if he would spend the 2013 season catching the passes of a quarterback who has thrown for 29,844 yards (Ben Roethlisberger) or one who has thrown for 44,806 yards (Tom Brady).

“Yeah, but I don't worry about that now,” Sanders said of possibly being one of Brady's top targets. “It's not important. It could have happened, but I'm here, and I want to be here, and that's what's important.”

The Steelers, already stripped of Mike Wallace through free agency, didn't want to lose the man who would replace him, so they matched the Patriots' offer.

But the sides haven't worked out a new contract, and the Steelers' policy is not to negotiate once a season starts. So beginning at 1:01 p.m. Sunday, the clock starts ticking on Sanders' potential lame-duck season.

“I understand their situation,” Sanders said of the Steelers' reluctance to give him a big contract.

While players often talk about franchise loyalty, all but a few sign with other clubs after they become free agents.

What price for patience? How about $60 million for Wallace and $26 million for Keenan Lewis, the most recent Steelers unrestricted free agents to sign big deals.

“At the end of the day, a contract is a contract. I'm playing on a one-year deal, and it doesn't matter,” Sanders said. “Yeah, I have a big opportunity ahead of me, and I want to make the most of it. But I'm just singularly focused on today and tomorrow, not what's going to happen in the offseason.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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