By now, Emmanuel Sanders has spent more seasons and played more games for the Denver Broncos that he did for the team that drafted him, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That can at times make it easy to forget where his NFL career began. Not during a week in which the Broncos are hosting the Steelers.
“It feels weird because I’ve been out here for five years, and to play them, I forget about my Pittsburgh days,” said 31-year-old Sanders, who’s worn No. 10 for the Broncos. “But everybody reminds me of when I was No. 88. I’m like, ‘Oh snap, yeah.’ It feels like I’ve been a Bronco my whole career, but I still remember the days there.”
Sanders had 161 catches for 2,030 yards and 11 touchdowns over 56 games with the Steelers from when he was taken as a third-round draft pick in 2010 through the 2013 season. He had two catches in Super Bowl XLV and often served as the Steelers kick and punt return man.
Sanders was a productive and well-liked player for the Steelers. But he had the misfortune of being taken in the same draft as Antonio Brown (not to mention in joining a team that already had a possible future Hall of Famer in Hines Ward and a Pro Bowler in Mike Wallace at wide receiver).
As such, the organization had no plans to keep him longterm. The Steelers traditionally have chosen one wide receiver for whom they give a big-money second (or subsequent) contract to and backfill the remainder of the corps with younger players.
So, he signed a three-year, $15 million contract with Denver in 2014 that paired him with Peyton Manning and made Sanders a Pro Bowler when he had 101 receptions for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns that first season in the Mile High City.
“Obviously we got a lot of respect for ‘Prime’ and what he’s capable of, knowing him over the years,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
The Steelers, of course, have thrived without Sanders. Brown has had five statistical receiving seasons that are better than any player in NFL history, and the likes of Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and now, JuJu Smith-Schuster have served more than capably as No. 2 threats.
Pittsburgh was simply wrong place/wrong time for Sanders
“The things that (the Steelers) told me when I left,” Sanders recalled, “I remember Mike Tomlin telling me they didn’t have the money to pay me, but he still wants to see me balling, scoring touchdowns and having fun, and things of that sort.
“I’m still that, but at the end of the day, I really want to win this game, for sure.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.