Emmanuel Sanders' Departure Would Continue Bad Trend for Pittsburgh Steelers

Mike StangerCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2013

Is Emmanuel Sanders pointing toward New England?
Is Emmanuel Sanders pointing toward New England?Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac reported that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders signed an offer sheet with the New England Patriots. Dulac wrote:

Three days after top receiver Mike Wallace signed a $60 million contract with the Miami Dolphins, No. 3 receiver Emmanuel Sanders has signed an offer sheet with the New England Patriots that will force the Steelers to match the offer or let him go, too.

Later, ESPN's Adam Schefter contradicted that report on Twitter:

Regardless of the specifics, Sanders' potential departure marks a disturbing trend for the Steelers.

As Dulac mentioned, Pittsburgh already took a hit to the receiving corps after Wallace's signing with the Dolphins. Losing Sanders would leave only Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress as experienced receivers on the roster.

Suddenly the former "Young Money" trio of Brown, Sanders and Wallace becomes "One Young Money, A Slot Receiver and A Guy Playing at Veteran's Minimum."

Doesn't quite have the same punch.

Now, General Manager Kevin Colbert insists the team isn't in transition. Owner Art Rooney II claims this year is no different than in the past.

Like the Wizard of Oz claiming that there is nothing to see behind the curtain, Colbert and Rooney are fooling no one.

With all apologies to them, this is a team in transition and, yes, this year is different.

The Steelers have seen James Farrior, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, James Harrison, Keenan Lewis and Wallace leave over the past two years. Free-agent veterans Max Starks and Casey Hampton have yet to be offered contracts. Now, Sanders may be leaving.

When a team loses that many starters in a short period of time, it certainly isn't going through a period of stability. Perhaps transition isn't a flattering term for Colbert, but it is an appropriate one.

Losing aging veterans is one thing. Many of them were making large amounts of money not commensurate with their deteriorating skill levels.

The bleeding of fresh talent from the roster is counterproductive.

A team needs to cull the herd of the old, not bid farewell to the young.

Replacing old stars becomes more difficult when there is a dearth of young talent to step in. Eventually, the talent drain takes its toll and the effects start to show.

And that's why this year's trend is more troubling. The young guys are leaving, not the crusty, past-their-prime veterans.

The last time something like this happened was under the Cowher-led Steelers of the 1990s.

After watching veterans like Rod Woodson, Carnell Lake and Neil O'Donnell leave, alongside young guys like Chad Brown and Leon Searcy, the Steelers eventually hit a dry spell from 1998 to 2000, going 7-9, 6-10 and 9-7, respectively, and missing the playoffs.

A similar fate looms on the horizon.

And with Sanders' potential departure, that ominous fate moves one step closer to reality.