Emmanuel Sanders Fights Back Against Ageism In NFL, Ramon Foster Agrees (But The NFL May Not)

For much of the past decade, especially since 2013, the Pittsburgh Steelers have focused very heavily upon the defensive side of the ball with respect to adding to their roster, and this has been especially true of the NFL Draft. In fact, every first-round pick since then has been a defender. They even traded their 2020 first-round pick last season for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

With the defense seemingly finally up to the level of play that they were looking for, however, the expectation is that the team will focus largely on adding to the offense this time around. While quarterback is almost surely out of the picture, tight end is a particular priority, with offensive line depth, as well as depth at running back and wide receiver, will also be noted.

With a limited amount of draft picks this year, however, the Steelers will have to at least attempt to fill a hole or two in free agency, and a relatively cheap veteran wide receiver—think Donte Moncrief or even cheaper, in fact, likely cheaper—would be an obvious target.

Could that player be Emmanuel Sanders, the former 2010 third-round draft pick who spent his first four seasons in Pittsburgh before signing with the Denver Broncos in free agency? Sanders, soon the be 33, was traded to the San Francisco 49ers during the 2019 season, and is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.

Sanders just completed a three-year, $33 million contract, which featured a base salary of $10.15 million in 2019. At his age and with his numbers sagging—he caught 184 passes for 2292 yards and 11 touchdowns over the life of that contract—he will surely come cheaper, but will it be in the Steelers’ range?

The former Steeler recently took to Twitter to let everyone know that, despite his age, he is most certainly not on the decline. You can read his response to the criticisms that have been surfacing about him over a three-tweet message:

You might notice if you click through that former teammate and longtime Steeler Ramon Foster replied to the first Tweet to support Sanders. Foster is in a somewhat similar position right now, at 34, though he is currently under contract for 2020. Many recognize that he is at risk of being a salary cap casualty, potential to re-sign a younger player at his position who is due to hit the open market.

When the NFLPA agreed to a rookie wage scale and introduce the veteran minimum qualifying contract with a reduced cap it during the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, the thinking was that it would encourage teams to retain more veterans.

Instead, teams have chosen to rely upon the cheap labor of rookie deals more than ever, which means there have been fewer and fewer opportunities for ‘overpaid’ veterans who are past their primes. Guys like Foster and Sanders have shown that you can still play at a high level into your 30s, but their example is on the wane except for the most elite at their positions.

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