F. Dale Lolley Column

Steelers have an offseason plan

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One of the great things about Twitter for journalists is that you have immediate access to thousands of people who are interested in the beat you follow.


One of the worst things about Twitter for journalists is that you have immediate access to thousands of people who are interested in the beat you follow.


Take, for example, the opening week of the NFL free agent period.


Every time a Steelers free agent even visits another team, the doom and gloom begins. “We’re finished.” “What are the Steelers doing?” It goes on and on.


Know this: At this point, the Steelers haven’t lost anyone they didn’t expect – or couldn’t afford – to lose.


Everyone knew at the beginning of the 2012 NFL season that wide receiver Mike Wallace was headed elsewhere. So why the shock and awe when it actually happened?


And when the Steelers signed cornerback William Gay a couple of weeks ago, it all but assured they weren’t going to get into a negotiating battle to keep cornerback Keenan Lewis.


Anyone who has been paying attention should not have been at all surprised that linebacker James Harrison and guard Willie Colon were released in salary cap-related moves. It had been written about as a possibility pretty much throughout the season.


Again, why all of the angst over players who helped the Steelers to an 8-8 record in 2012?


Certainly, the Steelers had hoped to keep wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, especially going into free agency knowing Wallace was gone.


But because of their cap situation, they could only place a low tender on him, putting his 2013 salary at $1.323 million. That guarantees them the right to match any contract offer Sanders might receive or get a third-round pick – where they selected Sanders in the 2010 draft – in return.


They could have made a second-round tender offer, but it would have increased his salary to just more than $2 million, while a first-round tender offer would have placed his salary at $2.89 million.


That’s a lot of money for a receiver who has been healthy enough to play in 16 games just once in three years.


Friday, Sanders met with New England’s front office, but left without signing a tender offer. He had not done so yet Saturday, though the Patriots released starting receiver Brandon Lloyd to avoid paying him a $3 million roster bonus.


So New England, which has already lost Wes Welker in free agency, obviously has a need.


But even if the Patriots do finally get Sanders to put his name on an offer sheet, the Steelers will have a week to match it.


And if they choose not to do so, they will receive a third-round draft pick in exchange. Plus, they’ll free up an additional $1.323 million in cap space, allowing them to pursue another free agent wide receiver.


Seems like a win-win situation to me.


Sanders is a promising, young receiver. But he’s also one who has just 94 receptions for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns in three seasons.


Wallace had 235 receptions for 4,042 yards and 32 touchdowns in four seasons and many Steelers fans were ready to run him out of town on a rail last year.


But the fact remains that if Sanders leaves in free agency as well, the Steelers will have a hole on their roster behind Antonio Brown, despite re-signing Plaxico Burress earlier in the week.


Even that, however, is fillable.


Given their current roster, the Steelers could certainly use an extra third-round draft pick. And with the money they would have paid Sanders, they could sign another free agent, say the Giants’ Domenik Hixon or Oakland’s Darius Heyward-Bey.


Regardless, the Steelers likely have a plan. They always do.


It’s one reason why they haven’t had a losing season since 2003.



F. Dale Lolley can be reached at dlolley@observer-reporter.com.


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