MAQB – Understanding the Emmanuel Sanders Deal

by NFL Gimpy

Several days ago, Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders tweeted “Hate the business side of the NFL.” Why would he say that? Sanders, as a restricted free agent (RFA), received a 1-year contract offer from the Steelers with a 3rd round compensation if he signed elsewhere. If Sanders signed an offer with another NFL team, there would be 2 possibilities: the Steelers match that offer and Sanders stays with the Steelers or they don’t match and the Steelers receive a 3rd round pick from that team. Sanders’ situation became very interesting when the Patriots offered him a 1 year, $2.5M contract, roughly a $1.2M increase from his RFA offer. This set off a week of uncertainty for Sanders which easily explains his disdain for a process that has now ended with the Steelers matching the offer. Sanders will remain in Pittsburgh for 2013.

There were several questions around this whole scenario that made it much different than a normal RFA contract offer. Primarily, why would the Patriots only offer a 1-year deal? That seems to be the most puzzling thing of all on the surface, but if you break it down a little bit it makes sense. There were 4 reasons for a 1-year deal. First, the Patriots could turn around and immediately re-sign Sanders to an extension as long as his cap number for 2013 was larger than the offer ($2.5M). That would be very easy to accomplish and the offer was designed so they could extend him before the season began. Second, they assumed it would be difficult for the Steelers to pass up a 3rd round pick for a player they will most likely lose next offseason. Third, the Steelers have major salary cap concerns and an additional $1.2M would make things even more difficult. Finally, if the Steelers do match, Sanders is likely to be a free agent next season (the Steelers would have to place the franchise tag on him or sign him to an extension) and the Patriots can take another shot at him.

Given that Sanders did try to leave the Steelers, it shows that he may not be interested in a contract extension. For Sanders, this was a win-win proposition. Either he receives a $1.2M raise in 2013 or he earns a long term contract. If Sanders doesn’t trust the Steelers to pay him what he thinks he deserves, he has to make a move and this was it. Now, the Steelers know if they want to keep Sanders after this season, he needs an extension ASAP because he will happily test the market without one.

I think the Steelers made a mistake here. Unless they’re very confident they can sign Sanders to an extension, they lost a 3rd round pick for one year of Sanders at WR. Sanders has been an above average player and may be close to a breakout season. If the Steelers don’t win the Super Bowl and they lose Sanders in free agency, it was all for naught. I understand the mentality of teams like the Steelers; they’re always a contender and will plan to compete every season. But do you sacrifice a good draft pick for one year of an above average WR when you’re a long shot to win the Super Bowl? That doesn’t seem prudent to me.  

Take a look at their division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens let several talented players leave via free agency because they didn’t value those players as highly as other teams. The Ravens will get virtually nothing back, just a few compensatory picks in the 2014 draft. The Steelers gave up a 2013 3rd round pick. That’s a top 100 pick. The Ravens will get less in return for better players. I’m not saying Emmanuel Sanders isn’t worth $2.5M because he certainly is. But is he worth $2.5M and a 3rd round pick if he leaves after the season? Unless Sanders is a key player on a deep playoff run, hell no was he wasn’t worth it.

The only way for the Steelers to win is if Sanders signs a cap-friendly long term extension or if they make a deep playoff run. If the Steelers have a mediocre season and Sanders leaves they’ll really wish they had that 3rd round pick. The Patriots have only lost the opportunity to have Sanders this season. The attempt to sign Sanders does underscore the inability of the Patriots to draft and develop a WR. Here’s a list of the WRs the New England Patriots have drafted the past 10 years and the year/round they were drafted in: Jeremy Ebert (2012/7th), Taylor Price (2010/3rd), Brandon Tate (2009/3rd), Julian Edelman (2009/7th), Matt Slater (2008/5th), Chad Jackson (2008/2nd), P.K. Sam (2004/5th), and Bethel Johnson (2003/2nd).

With a guaranteed Hall of Fame QB, none of these players has 1,000 career receiving yards. The best of the bunch has been Julian Edelman with a little over 700 career receiving yards. Meanwhile, they’ve drafted 4 TEs who have had better career numbers than those 8 WRs over the same time frame. I’d say the Patriots have been pretty bad at drafting WRs over the past decade. Let’s hope for Tom Brady’s sake things turn around in 2013. They have struck gold with veteran WRs but with no options left they’ll either go with what they’ve got or hope they can finally develop a rookie for the first time since Deion Branch and David Givens in 2002.

* * * * *

The NFL Draft is a mere 10 days away and I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a mock draft but last year my mock was a disaster and the draft is so uncertain this year. I wrote about QBs and the draft last week and with the amount of uncertainty there, it makes a mock draft even more difficult. I’ll have something next week in preparation for the draft but I’m uncertain as to what it’ll be. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions as to what you want to see in preparation for the draft, comment or send me a tweet.

Quick Hits

-Let me get this straight. The Cowboys haven’t reached an agreement as to whether or not Josh Brent will come to offseason workouts. He KILLED his teammate Jerry Brown. He drove drunk with Brown in the car, acted like an idiot while driving, and the ensuing accident KILLED HIS TEAMMATE. There is no doubt Brent was drunk, driving, and caused the accident. The only doubt is how severely the law punishes him or if some technicality gets him off. The Cowboys say there’s “no chance” he plays for them in 2013. I don’t care what the CBA says regarding scenarios like this; do whatever you can to prevent Brent from coming to workouts. There shouldn’t be a question as to whether or not he’ll be on the team in 2013. I feel like killing a teammate should fall under “conduct detrimental to the team.”

-Attention sports media: please stop talking about the backup/wildcat QB on the Jets. Please. I beg you. The state of sports journalism is already a joke and the horse is nothing more than a bloody pulp now. Stop beating it.

-While on the topic of the Jets, if they don’t get this Revis deal done and he walks after the season, ownership needs to fire GM John Idzik. You cannot allow a premier NFL player to walk when an opportunity to trade him for a great return was there to take. It seems as if they’re playing hard to get with the Buccaneers who have much more leverage as seemingly the only suitor for Revis.

-Rumors say that the Chiefs are willing to trade LT Branden Albert for a high 2nd. There should be several teams on the phone with them if true. If Albert’s health checks out, he’ll only be 28 when the season starts. You can easily get 4-5 years of good LT play out of Albert. That’s worth a high 2nd round pick. If that pick enables you to go after someone else with your 1st round pick instead of chasing a LT, you’re in much better shape. Miami, Detroit, San Diego, and Arizona would be good destinations.

-One of the dumbest things I see in mock drafts is when a writer says a team should draft a position in the 1st or 2nd round because a rookie last year didn’t make an immediate impact. Take Michael Floyd for the Arizona Cardinals. Floyd didn’t have a great rookie campaign. But that doesn’t mean the Cardinals need to draft a WR in the first 3 rounds because of that. WR is a tough position to make an immediate impact at in the NFL. Here’s the rookie season of a consensus All Pro WR: 48 catches for 756 yards and 4 touchdowns. Floyd: 45 catches for 562 yards and 2 touchdowns. I do not mean to compare Floyd to this WR in any way, shape, or form (which is Calvin Johnson, by the way), but only to illustrate that even a dominant WR like Megatron didn’t torch the world his rookie season. Megatron also had a savvy vet QB in Jon Kitna (4,000 yards and a 63.3% completion) throwing him the ball. Floyd had Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, Bryan Hoyer, and Ryan Lindley (combined for 3,383 yards and a 55.4% completion). There’s a slight difference there.

-I hope the draft prospect that trashed a hotel room at the combine is revealed. Anyone with that little regard for common sense is hopefully punished on draft boards. If you can’t trust a player to not trash a hotel at a job interview, how can you trust him with a 6 or 7-figure check?

-I’m happy to announce I have begun writing for Pitt Blather, a site for Pitt football, basketball, and other sports. I’m proud to write about my alma mater and have added a lot of what I have learned from Tommy and Matt to the site. I’m writing there under my first name, Justin. Don’t get too excited, I’m still writing here. You haven’t gotten rid of me yet.

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14 Responses to MAQB – Understanding the Emmanuel Sanders Deal

  1. Pingback: Iggles Blitz » Blog Archive » Other QBs

  2. ultramattman says:

    Maybe I’m missing something – why do the Steelers lose a 3rd round pick if they matched the offer? Wouldn’t it be the Patriots who lost a pick if they signed Sanders? Why do the Steelers have to give up something?

    • NFLGimpy says:

      I think the confusion is that by matching, the Steelers lost a 3rd round pick they would have received from the Patriots this year, all for the cost of only keeping Sanders this year. Sorry if that’s a bit nebulous.

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  4. iskar36 says:

    NFLGimpy, good write up on the Sanders situation, but I have to disagree with you a little bit. Right before the draft, I think we start overvaluing picks in order to get a promising prospect who we have started to read over and over again leading up to the draft. The reality is though, a good 3rd round pick is usually going to end up as a serviceable starter (sure there are guys who end up being elite NFL players, but there are also plenty of guys who are flat out busts).

    You wrote it yourself that “Sanders has been an above average player and may be close to a breakout season.” He is also obviously young at 26 years old. If the Steelers think he has the potential to have a break out season as you suggest, keeping him makes a ton of sense. I’m not a cap guru by any means, but obviously they found a way to fit him under the cap this year. If he has a good season and is worth keeping next year, I’m sure there are ways to sign him to a long term contract. If he doesn’t manage to have that break out season though, they are off the hook and can let him go with the logic that they gambled on an above average WR and missed.

    Keep in mind as well that if they let him go to the Patriots, they would have had to replace him some way. In other words, they would have likely had to use that third round pick they received in compensation (or better) to replace Sanders’ production, but without any kind of guarantee that the drafted prospect can make it in the NFL much less be an above average player.

    I’m not saying that the Steelers absolutely did the right thing by keeping Sanders. However, I do think it is a lot less obvious of a mistake as I think you are making it out to be.

    • NFLGimpy says:

      I do see where you’re coming from and I think the main reason I believe it’s a mistake is that I don’t believe they’ll be able to keep him long term. I view the chances of keeping him as around 10%.

      So would you rather have a 3rd round pick and $2.5M in cap room

      OR

      1 year of above average WR play on a team with a ton of holes that’s highly unlikely to win a Super Bowl?

      I would take the former. The only way this works for the Steelers is if they get him locked up long term. If he hits the market next season, they made a mistake. Overthecap.com (insanely awesome website) has them at a little over $1M in cap room right now. That may not be enough to sign rookies so the only time frame they’ll have for an extension will be after the 2013 season where most players would be wise to test the market a little. Here’s the link:
      http://www.overthecap.com/nfl-cap-space.php?Year=2013

      • NFLGimpy says:

        Regarding rookie cap #s:

        No way in hell is $1M. Last year’s 1st round pick, David Decastro, had a $1.4M cap number. He was the 24th overall pick. They pick 17th this year. They need to move around even more cap space just to sign their 1st round pick this year.

        • iskar36 says:

          No question $1M is not enough to sign their rookies. They undoubtedly though made the decision to keep Sanders with the realization that they would need to make additional moves. Keep in mind, regardless of if they signed him or not, they still would have needed to make moves to create enough space for their rookies.

          I guess the question I have for you though is what makes you think that the likelihood of them keeping Sanders is only 10%? The evidence you used above, “Given that Sanders did try to leave the Steelers, it shows that he may not be interested in a contract extension,” shouldn’t be ignored, but I think there are definitely alternative reasons why he was willing to leave. The most obvious to me is, he was getting the same length of a contract offer for more money. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t want to stay with the Steelers long term if they offer him a fair contract after the season. Furthermore, as has been noted, the Steelers currently do not have a ton of cap space, but the fact that they kept him for this year suggests that Sanders is a guy they like. I would guess the reason they only tendered him at a 3rd round level has little to do with how much they like him as a player and a lot to do with how much they could afford. If Sanders does play well, according to Overthecap.com, they have $113M of their cap space already accounted for, but they should have some flexibility to make moves for players they like. Granted, you may have other reasons to question why they would be able to bring him back next year.

          • NFLGimpy says:

            The important thing to keep in mind is that they can’t extend him until after the 2013 season. If you’re Sanders, why would you re-sign before you have an opportunity to test the market? I should have been more specific and said there’s

  5. iskar36 says:

    It won’t let me reply directly to your comment, but I think you made that point about having to sign him after the 2013 season in the post as well. So it wasn’t you being unclear, just me not addressing that as well. When you say they can’t extend him until after the 2013 season, do you mean until FA officially begins again or do you mean until after the Super Bowl during that month or so period where teams are allowed to negotiate with their own to-be FAs but not other team’s? If it is the former, you’re definitely right that it would make a huge difference in the ability to resign him. If it is the latter however, plenty of players sign new contracts before FA begins. The key would be that the Steelers would have to offer him a fair contract.

    • NFLGimpy says:

      They can sign him before he hits the market. I guess my belief is that Sanders has to want to re-sign with them and not test the market. Plenty of players do re-sign, but rarely are they ascending players with highly interested suitors. The risk to Sanders is in the 2013 regular season. He’s risking injury and if he makes it out, he’s going to want cash money. Most NFL players only get one shot at a payday. He saw Antonio Brown get $41M from the Steelers and Mike Wallace get $60M from the Dolphins. The best way to get that $$ is to have a great season and let the bidding war begin.

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  7. Jcone says:

    Hey Justin,

    I recall there used to be a value chart for draft picks used to generally gauge the values of draft pick trades, and there were some discussions about the new cba somewhat nullifying the chart. Could you make a post about any new perceptions of draft pick values post new cba if there are any? I know much of it relies on the FO of the teams and how they evaluate everything, if yof have some insight into this rather than pure speculation that’d be great.

  8. NFLGimpy says:

    Just in case anyone isn’t sure what Jcone is referring to, it’s this: http://www.draftcountdown.com/features/Value-Chart.php

    The important thing to note is that this chart is merely a guide, not a rulebook. Last year, the Redskins sent pick #6, a 2nd round pick, and their 2013 and 2014 1st round picks to the Rams to move up 4 spots. A future first rounder is graded as a high 2nd round pick generally. If you use the value chart listed, the Redskins drastically overpaid, rougly by a late 1st round pick. If the Browns (picking #6) offered the Jaguars #6, a 2nd, and a 1st next year, they’d start doing backflips. They would take less than that guaranteed unless they’re absolutely in love with someone.

    The Redskins got a guy who appears to be a franchise QB (health permitting). Would you trade 3 1st round picks and a 2nd for Aaron Rodgers right now? I sure as hell would. Would you trade that for JJ Watt or Aldon Smith? Probably not. You can have a Super Bowl defense without a top 10 defensive player. It’s pretty tough to win a Super Bowl without a great QB these days.

    In my roundabout way to answer your question, I think at the top of the draft, the chart is more or less useless. On the 2nd and 3rd days of the draft, it’s still a good way to gauge a trade. But at the top? The players available heavily determine the cost. A franchise QB is something a team will “overpay” for according to the pick value chart. The contracts available have made the top picks a bit more valuable, but if the players aren’t desired, it’s a buyers market. You better believe the Redskins wouldn’t complain if RG3 had Sam Bradford’s contract right now.

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