The Steelers have two choices -- commit to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for the upcoming season or accept the 91st overall pick in the 2013 draft as compensation.
Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' respected draft sage, has turned lower picks into gridiron gold. No. 1 receiver Antonio Brown was a sixth-round pick. Sanders was drafted 82nd overall in 2010. Mike Wallace was also a third-round pick (84th overall) in 2009. Ike Taylor (125th, 2003), Chris Kemoeatu (204th), Brett Keisel (242nd) and Keenan Lewis (96th) are a few other examples of third-day values scored by the Steelers.
|More 2013 NFL Draft coverage|
Sanders has 66 receptions and three touchdowns the past two seasons. His production and value aren't irreplaceable. It was the Steelers, after all, who set his value in restricted free agency. And as CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reports, the Patriots submitted a one-year offer sheet for Sanders on Wednesday, according to an NFL source.
Sanders would be an experimental starter in 2013, and he hasn't shown enough to convince he'll be a mainstay as more than a borderline No. 2 and ideal No. 3 target. Most can agree a $1.323 million restricted offer was a healthy signal to Sanders where he stood with the franchise. For $700,000 more, Sanders could've been tendered at a second-round level -- meaning suitors would have to sacrifice a second-round pick in the '13 draft to sign him -- or the gung-ho, all-in first-round tender of $2.879 million. That would've solved any concern that Sanders would be lost.
But also consider this: The 91st overall pick in 2012, OT Lamar Holmes of the Falcons, will make a grand total of $2.67 million for the entirety of his four-year contract.
The other overlying issue for the Steelers is the bare bones salary cap status of a franchise consistently restructuring the contracts of their stars in an annual cap-limit limbo that will cost them in dead money and cap charges down the road.
Colbert trumpets the need and desire to build from within -- meaning homegrown talent is the path to stability. In recent years, there have been notable misses -- WR Limas Sweed, OL Kraig Urbik and LB Bruce Davis were top-80 picks in the past five years -- and there's no such thing as a "safe" pick at 91.
But consider the value of the 91st overall pick by analyzing the best players drafted in the spot.
Two years ago, the Falcons drafted linebacker Akeem Dent at No. 91. The 25-year-old started 13 games for the NFC runner-up last season.
In 2008, the Packers drafted Jermichael Finley in the 91st spot.
In a relative sense, there is value to be found everywhere in the top 100. Given the Steelers' needs, and their shortage of funds, letting Sanders walk tracks Colbert's pattern of logic.
What would be reasonable to sweat for Steelers fans: Can a rookie, even in the middle of the first round, make an impact as a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver ahead of Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress or can the Steelers do better by seeking a veteran in trade or on the free agent market?
Perhaps Nate Washington (Titans) or free agent Brandon Lloyd would be good enough to spackle the starting lineup until a rookie can assimilate Todd Haley's offense. It would be more of a surprise if Colbert didn't take that kind of chance in the Sanders case.
For more NFL draft news and analysis, follow Jeff Reynolds on Twitter at @ReynoldsJD