The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Will Markus Wheaton take the lead of Emmanuel Sanders and be able to flourish playing a bigger role with a fresh start?
The Steelers have yet to sign any outside free agents, but they have already managed to lose a couple of their own, and among them was four-year veteran wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who spent the bulk of his final season in Pittsburgh nursing a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery in the offseason.
It was more or less assumed for a couple of years already that the Steelers would be unable to obtain him, although there were some late considerations for the fact that his contract year was virtually a wash due to his injury. His resume was evidently enough to earn a two-year incentive-laden contract that could earn him up to $11 million over that span.
While Steelers free agents who leave don’t always have great success, many wide receivers have been able to go on to do great things. Plaxico Burress was a notable one, and for how as imbalanced as his contract might have been at the time Mike Wallace played well his first couple years in Miami and is now doing well for himself in Baltimore.
But the poster child for the fresh start is clearly Emmanuel Sanders, who transformed into an All-Pro-quality wide receiver after signing a three-year contract with the Broncos worth roughly per-year what Wheaton just signed for, though that was several cap increases ago.
Sanders’ best season in Pittsburgh was his last, when he posted 67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns. That was the only season in which he caught more than two touchdowns in four relatively active years.
Wheaton’s best season came in 2015 prior to his final-year washout. He recorded 44 receptions but for 749 yards and five touchdowns, which included a 200-yard game in the mix.
In the past three seasons since leaving Pittsburgh, Sanders has averaged 83 receptions for 1190 yards and seven touchdowns. Much of that has come with below-average quarterback play. Wheaton will have Mike Glennon throwing passes to him.