sanders-again2

Last night the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to match the contract offered to Emmanuel Sanders by the New England Patriots, a move which was only mildly surprising. A cap crunched team could have easily taken the third-round pick handed over by the Patriots as part of Sanders’ original-round tender, and then used that to address their need two weeks from now while picking from a deep class at the position, and paying a much cheaper price.

The argument for familiarity was evidently much more compelling, though, with general manager Kevin Colbert opting for a tried and tested option to replace part of Mike Wallace’s production and line up across from Antonio Brown. Fair enough, I guess. Now they’re paying $2.5 million for one year of a player who may not provide significant value long-term beyond the equivalent player in the third round.

But what’s interesting about the finality of the great Emmanuel Sanders decision of 2013 is that it involved more than just the Steelers and Patriots.

Jordan Woy, Sanders’ agent, spoke to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier today. If his words are more than just agent-speak (insert disclaimer here), then a little less than a year from now when Sanders likely hits the open market, his price will be, um, pricey.

“We had several teams make offers in free agency so we know there are teams who really like Emmanuel,” Woy said. Translation: sure, we’ll discuss a long-term extension, but the value of this 26-year-old receiver just started to climb like that little dude in the Price is Right Cliffhangers game.

Cap space can always be created through extensions and axings, but the Steelers currently have only about $2 million in space. That makes agreeing to a long-term extension this offseason difficult/impossible, and if he excels during the 2013 season, Sanders will surely want to test the market since he’s fully aware there’s already been a fair amount of interest in his services.

Colbert would be wise to still target a receiver with an early-round pick.