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Pittsburgh Steelers: Patriots Would Be Doing Them a Favor by Taking Emmanuel Sanders

Maybe Bill Belichick has a conscience after all.

Perhaps he feels guilty about stealing the Steelers’ signals during the 2004 AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field.

How else can you explain the Patriots’ willingness to send the Steelers a third-round draft pick for Emmanuel Sanders?

Unless the devious Patriots laced Sanders’ drinking water with Randy Moss’ DNA during his visit to New England last month, they’re doing the Steelers a favor.

The Steelers have until Sunday at 11:59 p.m., to match the Patriots’ one-year, $2.5 million offer to Sanders.

If they don’t match the offer, they’d be woefully thin at wide receiver. Antonio Brown would be their only remaining receiver with more than 17 catches last season.

It would be a dire situation, but not quite as dire as everyone thinks.

Remember Jerricho Cotchery?

He’s caught just 33 passes in two years with the Steelers, but caught 41 passes for the New York Jets in 2010 before being buried in the Steelers’ offense. He’ll be targeted a lot more with Wallace and Sanders gone.

Perhaps by signing Sanders the Patriots think they’d be looting the Steelers’ already ravaged receiving corps and weakening an AFC rival.

By giving up their third-round pick, however, the Patriots would be left with four picks in the 2013 draft, which could be a speed bump to their sustained success.

Meanwhile, the Steelers would have nine picks in the draft, including two in the third round. They’d probably have to use two of their picks on wide receivers, but that would leave them with plenty of picks to address other needs such as running back, linebacker and safety.

To ensure they would get a third-round draft pick as compensation, the Steelers placed a $1.323 million restricted free agent tender on Sanders. That money would be off the books if Sanders becomes a Patriot, freeing up the salary cap space to perhaps sign running back Ahmad Bradshaw.

Bradshaw visited the Steelers last month, and according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, the Steelers plan to bring him in for a second visit before the draft. If the Steelers are satisfied with his health, they’ll try to sign him.

The Steelers are performing their due diligence before signing Bradshaw because he’s had multiple foot surgeries. Then again, so has Sanders. But unlike Bradshaw, Sanders doesn’t have two Super Bowl rings.

If the Steelers let Sanders go and sign Bradshaw, they’d have their cake and eat it, too. They’d improve at the running back position and still get an extra draft pick.

Granted, Bradshaw’s health concerns are fresher than those of Sanders, who played all 16 games for the first time in 2012. But Sanders has never caught more than 44 passes in a season. Bradshaw caught 47 passes one season, and he’s not even a receiver.

Sanders was one of the culprits in the Steelers’ infamous Fumblegate game where they turned the ball over eight times in a 20-14 loss at Cleveland.

Sanders fumbled the ball away again the following week in Baltimore. The Steelers won that game despite Sanders’ miscue and improved to 7-5. But Sanders caught just three passes for 49 yards in the next four games. The Steelers went 1-3 during that stretch and were eliminated from playoff contention.

Bradshaw is far from a done deal for the Steelers. What would be a done deal, if they let Sanders leave, is four picks in the first three rounds of the draft.

Now the Steelers are on the clock as they decide whether or not to match the Patriots’ offer. If Sanders’ career in Pittsburgh ends when the clock strikes midnight Sunday, the Steelers will have made the right decision.

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