Ex-Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders Ponders His NFL Future

Emmanuel Sanders

Christian Petersen/Getty Images Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (#88) of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after scoring on a 4-yard touchdown reception against the Arizona Cardinals on October 23, 2011.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, 34, just finished his 12th season in the NFL, with unrestricted free agency just around the corner. On Thursday February 10, 2022, Sanders did an in-studio appearance with Colin Cowherd on The Herd With Colin Cowherd and revealed that he hasn’t yet made up his mind as to whether he’s going to return for a 13th season.

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Sanders: ‘I’ve Got Some Reflecting I Want to Do’

“I’ve got my son, he’s getting older. I’ve got a daughter who is getting older,” said Sanders. “And for the past three years, I’ve been traveling and moving from team to team, trying to win a Super Bowl. But I’ve got some reflecting I want to do and possibly retire,” he said.

Indeed Sanders has been one-and-done with teams for the last few years, having been traded from the Broncos to the 49ers in October 2019, after five-plus seasons in Denver. He went on to spend one year with the New Orleans Saints, and in March 2021 he signed a one-year contract with the Buffalo Bills.

While Sanders isn’t the same player that he was mid-career, when he made two Pro Bowls as a member of the Broncos, he remains a productive complementary receiver, with 61 catches for 726 yards and five touchdown receptions in 2020 and another 42 catches for 626 yards and four touchdowns in 2021.

That makes a return to Buffalo a good possibility, but not the only possibility.

Asked about the No. 1 thing he’s looking for in a new team, Sanders said: “I want to win. I want to be happy…. I’m not going to a rebuild. I want to win and I want to be happy.”

Sanders’ Career Started With the Steelers

Sanders went on to say that he’ll take the next one to three months deciding whether he wants to continue playing, but if this is the end he’s had a fine NFL career, one that started in Pittsburgh, after he was selected in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft by the Steelers (No. 82 overall) out of SMU.

He played four years with Mike Tomlin’s Steelers, where ‘Easy Money’ Sanders was part of ‘The Young Money Crew’ of receivers that also included Hines ‘Old Money’ Ward, Antonio ‘Cash Money’ Brown and Mike ‘Fast Money’ Wallace.

In 2014 he signed with the Denver Broncos as an unrestricted free agent, where he stayed until he was traded to the 49ers in the middle of the 2019 campaign. In 2020, Sanders inked a two-year contract with New Orleans, playing just one year before becoming a salary cap casualty, which enabled him to go to Buffalo to play with rising star Josh Allen.

To date Sanders has appeared in three Super Bowls, with his first appearance coming as a rookie with the Steelers in 2010. His earned his only Super Bowl ring in 2015, alongside Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning.

As for his career stats, Sanders has appeared in 172 NFL games (with 122 starts), having caught 704 passes for 9,425 yards with 51 touchdown catches. His best season came in 2014, when he had 101 receptions for 1,404 yards and nine touchdown grabs. Between 2010-19 he was successful enough to be named to Pro Football Focus’ All-Decade Top 101, alongside six Steelers players.

A Return to Pittsburgh?

It’s not inconceivable that Sanders could return to Pittsburgh, assuming the price is right. Three of Pittsburgh’s top five receivers are unrestricted free agents (JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud) and Tomlin & Co. might be in the market for a reliable veteran to complement Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool.

It’s not unprecedented for successful ex-Steelers receivers to return to Pittsburgh to finish out their careers. Former second-round pick Antwaan Randle El did in 2010 and former first-round pick Plaxico Burress did it in 2012.

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