New York Jets Free Agent Target: Emmanuel Sanders?

A closer look at wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, a potential target for the New York Jets in free agency

One name that has been frequently associated with the New York Jets this offseason is Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, Emmanuel Sanders. With four seasons under his belt, Sanders is about to hit the free agent market for the first time in his career. In our roundtable last week, salary cap expert, Joel Corry, discussed the type of contract he is likely to receive:

 I would look for upper echelon #2 WR money with the Brian Hartline neighborhood ($6-$6.25M per year/$12.5M guaranteed) as my target.

Should the Jets consider making a push for him at this type of money? Let’s take a closer look at Sanders:


5 foot 11. 180 pounds. 4.41 forty time (2010 3rd round pick)

  • 2010: 13 games – 28 receptions – 49 targets – 376 yards – 2 TDs – 13.4 yards per catch
  • 2011: 11 games – 22 receptions – 43 targets – 288 yards – 2 TDs – 13.1 yards per catch
  • 2012: 16 games – 44 receptions – 74 targets – 626 yards – 1 TD – 14.2 yards per catch
  • 2013: 16 games – 67 receptions – 112 targets – 740 yards – 6 TDs – 11.0 yards per catch

Sanders began as an effective role player for the Steelers in his first two seasons. In 2012, he climbed his way up to being the fourth option in Pittsburgh’s passing game, behind Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, all of whom had more receptions, yards, targets and touchdowns than him that season. However, Sanders had an impressive yards per catch and logged 16 games for the first time of his career. He appeared to be showing signs of being ready for a more featured role in 2013 when Mike Wallace inevitably left in free agency. New England came up with an offer sheet for Sanders as a Restricted Free Agent but the Steelers matched the deal to ensure his return.

His 2013 was mildly disappointing. He didn’t make any strides on his reception to target ratio. In 2011, he was at 50%. In 2012, he bumped up to 59%. In 2013, he flatlined at 59%. Sanders’ yards per catch also dropped over 3 full yards. He did score more touchdowns in 2013 than he did in every other previous season combined. Yet, he never really rose up opposite of Antonio Brown as the team’s number two option, despite having a terrific opportunity to do just that with tight end Heath Miller missing a substantial amount of time. Ironically enough, it was former Jet Jerricho Cotchery who was more efficient and productive with his opportunities. On 36 less targets, Cotchery only had 138 less yards, a higher yards per catch by two yards and four more touchdowns.

When going back through eight of Sanders’ games from the 2013 and 2012 seasons, what stands out most about him is that there is not one thing that stands out most about his game. Sanders is a talented receiver but he has average size and does not play overly physical. He has very good but not great speed. It would be inaccurate to call him a burner or a true home run threat. In his career, he has only exceeded 80 yards three times and has never had a 100 yard game. He has occasional inconsistencies catching the football and is only slightly above average after the catch, thanks mostly to his speed, not an ability to break tackles. Sanders runs good routes and possesses strong field awareness but is not exceptional in either area.

In our previously mentioned roundtable article, Corry said Golden Tate would command about a million per year more than Sanders and the reason we keep banging the drum for Tate here instead of a guy like Sanders, is because Tate plays bigger than his size and does have an exceptional ability to avoid drops and break tackles. If you moved Tate around between split end, flanker and slot as a frequently featured receiver, he projects to have a higher ceiling than Sanders.

Would Sanders upgrade the Jets current receiving situation? Absolutely. However, that isn’t really saying much. I don’t see good value in paying him 6 million per year when I’m not sure his ceiling is much higher than what we saw in 2013. If he couldn’t crack 750 yards and a 11.5 YPC in a pass happy offense with a top ten quarterback opposite of All-Pro Antonio Brown, what is he going to produce in a more run orientated Jets offense with a sophomore quarterback who still has to prove himself a capable starter, without an All-Pro opposite him at receiver?

I say the Jets should pass.

Of course, Sanders did find a way to make arguably his biggest play of the season against the Jets in 2013.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the VP of Social Media at Whistle Sports

  • Nikolas

    Joel Corry may be talking about “asking” prices, but no club will pay Sanders 6 to 6.5 million, Tate 7-7.5 or Becker 9 million. These are average receivers at best.
    Sanders most likely will get 4-5, Tate 5-6 and Decker 6-7.
    Now would the Jets be willing to pay these prices for average receivers?

  • KAsh

    Tate and Decker will get paid well because they are some of the top FAs available. Free agency is set up as an auction, with the player going to the highest bidder once all the secondary benefits are factored in, and auctions generate the highest possible prices. Mike Wallace should have never gotten $11 million/yr, but he did.

    The Sanders hysteria is overhyped. Mehta “broke” the story, which probably means he pulled names out of a hat. Wide receiver on the NY Jets has been one of the biggest holes in the NFL for the past two years. Maclin is a very good, talented receiver on a very good offense that has strong, deep, multi-year ties to our offensive coordinator (and has, in fact, not played a single professional game in another system). Sanders is not really a fit, has no ties to the team, and is an average receiver, so his inclusion is odd, until you consider that he is someone lots of people will recognize. More people in NY know who Sanders is than Decker (buried as just a small part of the Broncos’s offense), Tate (the less vocal side of the ball on the Seahawks), or Edelman (one of Brady’s new featured receivers when the group has had a down year). Sanders simply sells more papers.

    I do have a question for Joe: would you be willing to trade for Josh Gordon, and if so, what?

  • John X

    I’m not sure these WR’s will command top dollar simply because they might be at the top of the FA pecking order as the draft is quite deep at WR.

  • John X

    Joe, great article. This makes me think twice about Sanders. He really should have had more of a breakout season with Wallace gone and Miller hurt on top of being in a contract year.
    Look forward to a breakdown of Tate as well.

  • Joe Caporoso

    I don’t disagree on Maclin but I think he is more than likely going back to Philly.

    As for Gordon, I cannot see any scenario where their new GM will trade him. He is their best player, a top 5-7 WR in the NFL and will be the top target for whatever QB they draft in the 1st round. If for some bizarre reason he was actually on the block, he still might command a 1st rounder, despite being one strike away from a one year suspension.

  • Nikolas

    The Jets need a #1 receiver but they are not going to find one in FA. Nevertheless they can still upgrade the WR position by signing a couple of free agents without breaking the bank. The addition of 2 free agents, and perhaps 2 draft picks (an early and late round) should upgrade the WR position; E.g. Jeremy Kerley, Emanuel Sanders (FA), Jordan Mathews (draft pick), David Nelson, Kenny Britt (FA), Stephen Hill etc. is not an elite group but it is an upgrade by far from last year; and there are always surprises; surprises and luck which are always the big difference makers.
    Given that our QB is still young and inexperienced our expectations –at this time- of the team’s aerial attack should be “adequate”. Adequate is not bad; look at Seattle.
    Our offense this year must rely even more on a ground attack. WE need a RB (Tre Mason, Jeremy Hill, or Charles Simms) not only for insurance against injury but also to boost our running game; and we need a nasty OL.
    These are a doable thing that is why 2014 will be our year.

  • Lidman

    I think what can’t be discounted is the sheer amount of available ‘cap space’ some teams have, (and this is before a lot fo cuts/restructures take place). Yes, some have their own FA to resign, but with the rookie wage scale in place, a lot of room is out there.

    If the market for WR is thin, then the top guys available have leverage. ‘It only takes 1 ownwer’ to overpay. I just hope the NYJ aren’t that team.