Talk about a painful cramp ... in the pocketbook.
The Steelers and WR Emmanuel Sanders were informed by the NFL on Friday that they are being fined a total of $50,000 for feigning an injury during a win at Cincinnati on Oct. 21.
Sanders grabbed the back of his leg and fell to the ground while in the huddle during the fourth quarter while Pittsburgh was driving in what turned out to be a 24-17 win over the Bengals. The act, in effect, saved the Steelers a timeout. Sanders was back on the field two plays later, showing no signs of the severe pain he appeared to be in prior.
The league acknowledged that Sanders had no previous history with cramps in his career or in that game. It also noted that Sanders out-ran his teammates on his first play back on the field, downing a punt, and that he played the rest of the game -- and the games since -- without any known injury.
"Despite the account given by Sanders during our November 2nd meeting, neither the video sequence of the pertinent plays nor the observations of the on-field official support Sanders's contention that he was in severe pain, either before, while falling to the ground, lying on the ground, or when he was being assisted in leaving the field," NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson wrote in an open letter to Sanders and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.
Sanders was fined $15,000 and the organization $35,000. Anderson said the penalty to the team would have been "substantially more" if it had been found that "that the club, or any member of its coaching or administrative staff, has taught, suggested, instructed, or condoned the faking of injuries or any other competitive deception."
The league sent a memo to all its teams Sept. 25 in which it urged players and coaches to frown upon the faking of injuries. With player safety an increasingly sensitive issue, the NFL does not want legitimately injured players to feel pressure to get off the field in situations where, for example, a mandatory timeout or yardage would be assessed as a penalty.
"As a result, teams were urged to cooperate with the rule," Anderson said.
In the days immediately following the Bengals game, Sanders would laugh when the alleged injury-faking was brought up -- most notably during a radio appearance that week. But after the league informed him it wanted to discuss the incident early last week, Sanders was less willing to discuss it publicly, instead repeatedly saying the matter was being handled "in-house."
Sanders, meanwhile, is on track to be the Steelers' No. 2 receiver Monday night against the Chiefs. WR Antonio Brown has not yet practiced this week after sustaining an ankle injury in Sunday's win over the New York Giants.
A third-round pick like Pittsburgh WR Mike Wallace was the year before, Sanders was taken three rounds before Brown was in 2010. A foot injury last season contributed to Sanders being limited to more of a complementary role while Wallace and Brown ascended to stardom (both went to the Pro Bowl last season; Brown was voted team MVP).
Sanders maintains he's healthy now. Although Monday will officially be his fourth career start, it will be the first game in which Sanders will enter as one of Pittsburgh's top two receivers.
"Everybody knew that he was a guy that if he was to stay healthy, he would be able to make plays for this team," said veteran WR Jerricho Cotchery, who himself is being bumped up into the No. 3 receiver role. "And that's what he's doing now."