When healthy, Bob Sanders is one of the top safeties in the league.
At this point, given what I said above, and that I’m advocating getting rid of Sanders, you’re probably asking yourself, “Did he take a trip to the medical marijuana store?”
What other possible explanation could there be for advocating the trade of one of the most dominant players on the Colts’ defense?
First off, and most important, is Bob Sanders’ health. Since he came into the league in 2004, he has never completed a 16-game season. The closest he has come was in 2007 when he played for 15 games.
I have heard other analysts say Bob Sanders was injury prone in college. To the contrary, Sanders only had one injury in his senior year at the University of Iowa.
Going into the draft, there was no reason to believe he was going to have the kind of health issues he’s had in the NFL.
In fact, Bob’s good health, and aggressive play style, impressed not only his fellow Hawkeyes, but several personnel people heading into the 2004 draft. There was even some speculation about him being the next Ronnie Lott.
So what is the problem with Bob? Why can’t he stay healthy?
There are two factors to look at when answering this question. The first is that Bob’s best quality is also his biggest liability. Bob uses his body like a human missile. Hence, the nicknames the “Hitman” and the “Eraser."
The problem is that Bob is only 5’8” tall and weighs 206 lbs. Think about the fact that Bob is often hitting guys, at top speed, who weigh 25 to 100 pounds more than him. He literally has to use his whole body to make devastating tackles.
The second problem is not Bob's fault.
The system that Ron Meeks and Tony Dungy employed in Indy used a bunch of guys in the front seven, who were so undersized, that they could not stop the run. Ron Meeks' answer to the problem was to use Bob as a heat seeking missile, to drop running backs in their tracks. He did what the front seven couldn’t do—tackle players and bring them to the ground.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this approach was going to take a toll on Bob’s body.
In fact, it didn’t even take long for the injuries to start. In his rookie season, Bob only played in six games, and started only four.
Fast forward to 2009, and let’s take a look at how many injuries Bob has sustained through his six year career: Bob has had 64 injuries over six years. That averages out to 10.6 injuries a season. Now think about that for a second—that's 10.6 injuries a season.
But here is the crux of the issue.
The Colts are paying a guy $7,220,000 who has never played a full season, may or may not play this year, and if he does play, may get injured again.
Though Bob’s projected salary drops to $3,875,000 in 2010, it shoots back up to $6,600,000 in 2011.
That’s a lot of money that the Colts could be using elsewhere. Like re-signing other players whose contracts are expiring next year, or hitting the free-agent market for once, and picking up some much needed linebackers.
I wouldn’t even be writing this article about trading Sanders if it were not for two people: Larry Coyer and Melvin Bullit.
Larry Coyer has come in with a different philosophy than his predecessor Ron Meeks. He wants the front seven to get bigger so the strong safety doesn't have to be in the box to stop the run. Larry also believes in blitzing much more than his predecessor, including using zone-blitz schemes like Dick LeBeau.
In my mind, this reduces the need for the human missile to stop the run.
The other factor is the emergence of Melvin Bullitt.
Melvin is taller than Sanders, weighs about the same, and hits just as hard.
In his first two years with the Colts, Melvin already has five interceptions. That’s the same amount of interceptions that Bob has had his whole career. He also has ten PDefs, that’s only two less than Sanders has over his whole career.
I know that the first retort to all of these stats will be, “Well, if Sanders could stay healthy he would have more.”
Well that’s the rub isn’t it? If Sanders could stay healthy, then he would have such and such stats.
Personally, I rather have a guy who can play for sixteen games, put up solid numbers, and is dependable, than someone who is amazing, but unreliable.
Plus, Melvin is just entering his third year, and he’s putting up numbers close to Sanders’ stats. Melvin is only going to get better.
Can we say the same about Bob?
Now we come to the last argument.
The Colts play more physical when Sanders is out there.
My answer to that is yes and no.
Under Ron Meeks, that statement used to be true; however, under Larry Coyer, who brings a much more aggressive style of defense, I don’t believe it matters as much anymore.
I haven’t missed Bob Sanders. I think Bullitt and Bethea are doing a great job at the safety position.
I love Bob Sanders, and he is an impact player when he is on the field, but unless he has an epiphany and takes a pay cut, I just don’t think he is worth the money anymore.
Given that it is very unlikely that he will take a pay cut, the Colts are better off trading him at season's end for some draft picks.
Now that we finally have a coach that is going to make sure that we’re playing physical on defense, we don’t have to rely on one player anymore.
It’s time for the Colts, the fans, and the media to stop being held hostage by the notion that without Bob Sanders we’re not the same team.