When the New England Patriots signed former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet in 2013 as a restricted free agent, it was Ben Roethlisberger who reportedly went to bat, asking the front office to match the one-year, $2.5 million offer that the Patriots put on the table.
About a year later, when Sanders left to join Peyton Manning with the Denver Broncos in free agency, he ruffled some feathers back in his old locker room with some comments that he made when asked to compare the two quarterbacks that he has primarily worked with.
The former third-round pick put Manning in a class of his own when it came to leadership and running a team, but his words were not received well by many of his former teammates. Roethlisberger admitted that those remarks hurt a bit, but yesterday said that he “kind of let it go like water under the bridge”.
According to the veteran quarterback, he and Sanders have not spoken since that time. As he paused to think about why Sanders might have said what he did, he remarked, “still up to this day, he never reached out to me”.
He also talked about the role that he may have played in developing the young wide out during his first four seasons in the league, when he entered in the same draft class as Antonio Brown and was surpassed by the second year by the wide receiver drafted three rounds later.
As mentioned earlier, Roethlisberger pushed for the front office to keep Sanders in 2013, selling him as a vital component to a budding offense, and he did have a career year then that helped him earn a rewarding contract as a free agent. “I was always on his side and in his corner”, Roethlisberger said, “when he was down or things weren’t going well”.
The wide receiver owned up to as much regarding the lack of communication since parting ways, but also said that he’s never gotten a phone call from Roethlisberger either, and, like his former quarterback, wanted to move past the remarks from more than a year ago.
Yesterday, he told reporters that “that’s all in the past”, saying “I don’t know why it’s still a problem. He reiterated that he never meant to disparage his former teammate, saying, “my comments were all toward Peyton. No disrespect toward Ben”.
“What I said was what everybody in the National Football League knows and when it comes to Peyton Manning, the guy is the ultimate leader”, he said. “I’ve got nothing but love for Ben. It was no shot at Ben”.
The parting may have done both parties good, as Sanders really blossomed in his first year with the Broncos, earning a Pro Bowl nod for the first time while racking up 101 receptions for 1404 yards and nine touchdowns. In the meantime, Roethlisberger led the league in passing yardage in 2014 while tying his own franchise record for touchdown passes.
While the stats of both have suffered this year due to injuries (in the receiver’s case, Manning), both have been productive. Roethlisberger leads the league in passing yards per game. Will he lead the way in extending an olive branch on Sunday as Sanders steps foot in Heinz Field for the first time since 2013?