Steelers

Return of Sanders? Steelers’ trade targets ☕

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Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) and Steelers cornerback Joe Haden (23) -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

The NFL trade deadline is coming up Oct. 29.

It's a deadline many fans don't know anything about, largely because it's never really mattered much in the past. NFL teams have rarely been as active as their brethren in other sports.

But the past couple of years have seen NFL teams become more active on the trade market for veteran players during the season. This year alone, the Steelers have made two trades in the first six weeks of the season for veteran help, acquiring safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Dolphins and tight end Nick Vannett from the Seahawks.

Those were the team's biggest needs and they've been filled.

That does not, however, mean they should be done. Even at 2-4 and without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers find themselves in the thick of things in the AFC playoff race. And if they want to improve their lot, there are some other moves they could make to become a better team.

The interesting thing about the NFL trade deadline -- unlike other professional sports leagues -- is that trading players doesn't mean you're a seller, giving up on your season, while trading for players or being a buyer doesn't mean you think you're still in things. Because rosters are so big and draft picks can be valuable, teams seem a little more willing now to deal from an excess to acquire future draft picks.

That said, here are some players the Steelers could target:

Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Broncos: Sanders was drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft by the Steelers -- three rounds before Antonio Brown -- and became a regular before Brown that season. In four seasons with the Steelers, he caught 161 passes before moving on in free agency to the Broncos.

Sanders has 404 receptions in his six seasons with the Broncos, but at 32 and in the final season of a 3-year, $33-million contract, he's not in the team's long term plans. At 2-5, the Broncos are ready to rebuild.

There figures to be a strong market for Sanders, even though he's coming off a torn Achilles' tendon suffered at the end of last season. He's got 30 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns and looks to be completely recovered from that injury.

The Patriots, Vikings, Packers, Titans and Panthers, among others, could use a veteran receiver. But so could the Steelers.

Sanders would cost $5.4 million for the rest of this season, about $640,000 per game and would be a rental. Whatever pick is traded for him, however, could be recouped as a compensatory selection in 2021 -- assuming compensatory picks remain part of the new CBA.

The Steelers are short on picks in 2020, having traded their first-round pick for Fitzpatrick and their third-round selection on draft day as part of the package to acquire Devin Bush. But they still have their pick in the second round, two fourths, a sixth and a seventh.

They also remain in line to get a third-round compensatory pick in exchange for losing Le'Veon Bell in free agency to the Jets -- if they release Donte Moncrief before Week 10. Acquiring Sanders would make it easier to do that, as well.

So, in essence, trading one of their two fourth-round picks to acquire Sanders for the remainder of the season would allow the team to easily release Moncrief and secure a third-round selection while getting a player who could take some pressure off JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Update: Sanders was traded to the 49ers along with a 2020 fifth-round pick in exchange for a 2020 third- and fourth-round selection Tuesday afternoon.

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