Pittsburgh Steelers: Why Losing Emmanuel Sanders Wouldn't Be as Bad as It Seems

Mike BatistaContributor IMarch 16, 2013

Emmanuel Sanders caught a career-high 44 passes in 2012.
Emmanuel Sanders caught a career-high 44 passes in 2012.Joe Sargent/Getty Images

First Mike Wallace leaves the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now Emmanuel Sanders?

Sanders, a restricted free-agent wide receiver, visited the New England Patriots on Friday, according to ESPN.com.

The Young Money Crew could become Young Money Solo with Sanders going to the hated Patriots.

Please step away from the Fort Pitt Bridge, Steelers fans. Sure, the Steelers are already thin at wide receiver, but they'd get a third-round draft pick if they lose Sanders. Draft picks are a lot more useful than wide receivers in March.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Sanders signed an offer sheet with the Patriots, but ESPN's Adam Schefter said in a tweet that the Patriots haven't signed him to an offer sheet, but could do so.

By placing a $1.323 million tender on Sanders, the Steelers have the right to match any offer he receives, and they'd get a 2013 third-round draft pick as compensation if they lose him.

If Sanders goes to New England, the Steelers would be left with Antonio Brown as the only remaining member of the Young Money Crew that also included Wallace and Sanders.

Instead of being a part of a trio of promising young receivers, Brown would be one of only three receivers on the Steelers roster with any notable NFL experience. One them, Plaxico Burress, will be 36 next season. The other, Jerricho Cotchery, has caught just 33 passes in two seasons with the Steelers.

Sanders had a breakout season, if you can call it that, in 2012. He caught a career-high 44 passes and led the Steelers with 14.2 yards per reception. After missing five games with injuries in 2011, Sanders played in all 16 games for the first time in his three-year career.

As celebrated as the Young Money Crew was, the Steelers never won a Super Bowl with any of them. One of the reasons for that has been Sanders' problems staying healthy. He caught two passes early in Super Bowl XLV against the Packers, then left the game with a foot injury.

Rashard Mendenhall's fourth-quarter fumble is the biggest "what-if" from that game, but Sanders' injury couldn't have helped, either.

Another ailment that afflicted Sanders in 2012 was fumble-itis. He was one of the culprits in the Steelers' infamous eight-turnover game at Cleveland, fumbling twice and losing one of them in a maddening 20-14 loss.

Sanders lost an open-field fumble the following week at Baltimore. The Ravens converted it into a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, but the Steelers came back to win that game 23-20. So Sanders was off the hook for that one.

With stud tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez freeing him up to get open deep, maybe Sanders would be the missing piece in the Patriots' quest to win their first Super Bowl since 2004. For a third-round draft pick, the Steelers should be willing to take that risk.

The Steelers, who finished 8-8 last season, could use more draft picks. For a franchise that has a realistic chance of winning the Super Bowl every year, a .500 record is rock-bottom and calls for a rebuild. The way to do that is to stockpile draft picks. Sanders, who has just eight career starts, would be a fair price to pay for a third-round pick.

NFL Draft Scout ranks 13 wide receivers among the top-100 draft prospects. Getting the Patriots' third-round pick, the 91st overall, would give the Steelers an extra chance to tap into that pool.

The third round is a key round for the Steelers when it comes to drafting receivers. All three members of the Young Money Crew were taken in the third round or later. Wallace and Sanders both were third-rounders and Brown went in the sixth round.

If the Steelers lose Sanders and wait until the third round to take a receiver, they'd still have three picks to address other needs such as linebacker and safety.

With Brown, Cotchery, Burress and a draft choice, the Steelers still would need to find someone else if they want to dress five receivers in games.

There's plenty of time for that, though. It's only March.