How Belichick screwed Pittsburgh
Never hear about the Jets getting to this level of working the draft and free agency... As much as I dislike the fat troll this is just one more reason you have to respect him.
(apologize to the ADD community out there, if it's too many words I put a 1 sentence summary at the end)
Football isn'ta game for the meek or weak-willed. To step inside the sidelines to step insidethe arena of the brave, where there is no surrender and certainly no mercy forthe weak. When we think of football, we all conjure in our heads the visage ofthe game's historic warriors - players like Mike Webster, Lawrence Taylor, andDick Butkus - who made the NFL what it is today through sheer force of will.
In this day andage however, toughness isn't simply reserved for the field. The front office isjust as dog-eat-dog - if not more so - and no one represents scorched earthtoughness against opponents like Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.Just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The CuriousCase Of Emmanuel Sanders
In case youhaven't noticed, the Steelers have gone through quite a bit of turmoil thisoffseason. The most notable FA loss has been Mike Wallace - although accordingto our metrics, it doesn't hurt as bad as you would think - but they've beenbleeding all over the roster, losing important pieces in Willie Colon whilereplacing them with marginal players like Bruce Gradowski.
After losingMike Wallace and choosing not to re-sign Rashard Mendenhall - and thencuriously looking at Ahmad Bradshaw before deciding there was much, muchtoo much wear on those tires - the Steelers then decided to turn theiroffensive attention to their other free agent WR, Emmanuel Sanders.That's when it got interesting.
You know whathappened in Boston by now; the Patriots let Wes Welker go, to the uproar andconsternation of fans everywhere. Just as the furor reached a boiling point,the Patriots brought in Danny Amendola from the Rams, an equally efficientreceiver to Welker..as long as he can stay healthy, that is. After adjustingfor defense, Welker put up 0.72 expected points added per reception, whereasAmendola put up 0.62; not a huge difference at all, particular when youconsider how much stronger of a QB Tom Brady is in comparison to Sam Bradford.There were rumors that the Patriots were going to come after Sanders as well,but after the Amendola signing, things went a bit quiet on that front, quietingthe anxiety of Steelers fans everywhere.
That is, untilBelichick struck.
While he wasn'tthe only one to offer the RFA Sanders to a contract, he put the biggest moneyon the table, throwing down $2.5M on a one-year contract. Why did he do this?You can sit here and point to various football reasons - Sanders is #22 indefense-adjusted receiving efficiency on a per-play basis, he plugs into thePatriots system well, and so on - but let's be totally clear about the mainreason, the one angle that no one seems to be bringing up.
Belichickrightly knew that the Steelers couldn't lose Sanders - not after losing WallaceAND Mendenhall in the same offseason - and put the screws on Kevin Colbert andcompany. The Pats hadand still do have the cap room, whereas the Steelers are pressed up against itso hard, their nose is starting to break. Knowing this, Belichick forced theSteelers hand, making them match Sanders' offer, fully knowing that it wouldmean the Steelers would have make more cap casualties, only to likely loseSanders again in a year.
If the Steelerschose not to match, they would have received a 3rd round pick in what is generallyheld to be a weak year for WRs. Bill knew as well as anyone that such a weakoutcome would not fly in Pittsburgh - certainly not after Wallace left. Bysimply making Sanders an offer, they made a difficult situation in Pittsburgheven harder. And what was their downside? None. "Losing" Sandersdoesn't hurt them all that much given the talent they already have -particularly with Amendola on the bus.
What'sinteresting here is that the Steelers could have avoided this entire messentirely by simply tendering him at a 2nd-round level, which would have been ata high enough level (~$2.0M) to dissuade anyone from coming in with a matchingoffer. They surely had to see the writing on the wall that Wallace wasn'tcoming back, so coming up above the original $1.3M would have been prudent.Instead, they end up paying double what they originally tendered, an enormousamount given their current cap problems.
WithoutSanders, the Steelers have a severe problem at WR, with sub-replacement levelPlaxico Burress, David Gilreath, and Jerricho Cotchery on the depth chartbehind Antonio Brown and an injured Heath Miller. The Patriots - whilecertainly not strong overall - boast Amendola alongside Edelman, the newlysigned Michael Jenkins (0.72 expected points added, same as Welker), theunderrated Donald Jones (0.59), and a two-headed monster at TE in Gronkowskiand Hernandez. Knowing that the Steelers have much more holes across the board,the Patriots can draft a WR to fill the void whereas the Steelers would struggleat #16 to find value at WR given their problems at LB and on both lines. Infact, the esteemed Mel Kiper has the Patriots filling this void at #29 withJustin Hunter from Tennessee, a great vertical threat for their offense toreplace Brandon Lloyd. The bottom line here is that while the Pats could haveused Sanders, the Steelers were in worse shape and couldn't afford to losehim... and they had to pay nearly double to keep him.
Hate them orlove them, you have to admire the way in which Belichick and the Patriotsorganize their front office moves. They didn't need to do this, but whynot, especially if it makes things even more difficult for a long-standingconference rival? Best case, you sign a solid WR to add to an impressive corpseven without Welker; worst case, you draft for need and make the Steelers cuteven more players just to keep Sanders for a year. Talk about a win-win! Welldone, Patriots. Well done.
ADD summary: In short, Belichick forced the stealers even harder against the cap by forcing them to pay double for Sanders.