Gene Collier: ‘Young Money’ roots haven’t left Emmanuel Sanders
February 4, 2016 12:23 AM
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who left the Steelers for Denver as a free agent, addresses the media Monday night at Super Bowl festivities in San Jose, Calif.
By Gene Collier / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — You don’t need a doctorate in psychology to realize that the exact metabolic strain of outlandish confidence we’ve come to appreciate in Steelers MVP Antonio Brown gets channeled just as reliably, and this season even more durably, by Emmanuel Sanders.
“He’s a lifer in Pittsburgh,” Sanders said about Brown at a gathering of Denver Broncos in the ramp-up to Super Bowl 50. “They’re never gonna let AB go.”
Steelers management isn’t likely to confirm that for public consumption just yet, but it’s in full acknowledgment of the logic.
Sanders still talks to Brown often, and to former Steeler Mike Wallace, the three of whom comprised the team’s comet-bright “Young Money Crew” receiving corps, the rocket that broke apart in that ever-unstable galaxy known as the NFL salary cap.
Sanders went first to Kansas City, or was it Tampa? Or here to the 49ers? Depends on who you talk to and which of those franchises was most hacked off by the methodology of Sanders’ agent. What finally calcified things was when the gifted wideout noted a shift in AFC West politics that he refused to ignore.
“I was watching SportsCenter,” Sanders was saying the other day, “and I’m hearing ‘doo-do-do, doo-do-do, Denver Broncos are signing Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware,’ and here I am a free agent and I’m in Kansas City, so I’m thinkin’, ‘Dang, the Broncos are loadin’ up.’ So I called my agent and said to get on the phone to the Broncos, because [then-Denver wideout] Eric Decker just signed with the Jets, so they might be in the market for a wide receiver.
“Ever since I touched down in Denver, it’s just been great for me.”
Sanders is probably less sure about the outcome of Super Bowl 50 than about his own manifest destiny, but there’s nothing crepuscular about the way his sixth NFL season has delivered a defining moment against a Carolina team that has won 22 of its past 24.
Sanders remains, uh, not fairly confident — bordering on unreasonably confident, which is only the very essence of who he is.
He almost grudgingly acknowledges the ungodly talents of Carolina corner Josh Norman, but as ever, it’s all about Manny.
“I never concern myself with any cornerback; it’s not about them,” Sanders said. “I know it sounds crazy, but I’m never concerned about anybody. If I stay true to my technique, I know that I’m quick, I know that I’m fast, I know that I’m gonna be able to get open, so why worry about the other guy when I know that if I take care of myself, everything will go smooth?”
Please. Manny deals only in rhetorical questions.
He was super smooth, you’ll have to admit, on the North Shore the night of Dec. 20, when he pulled in 10 passes from backup quarterback Brock Osweiler for 181 yards and a touchdown, which was purely fantastic if you didn’t look at Antonio Brown first. AB caught 16 Ben Roethlisberger bullets for 189 and two scores that night as the Steelers rallied to a 34-27 win, reminding everyone what Young Money Crew might have looked like in full bloom.
“I went through a lot there, even playin’ in the Super Bowl in 2010, breakin’ my foot,” Sanders said. “Now I’m back in this game and it’s like, I just want to play a full four quarters because I know what I went through in that Steelers Super Bowl. Just the emotion of having to sit on the sideline while my team’s out there. Knowin’ that I could help.
“That and with my mom passin’ away to go along with that, having to deal with all that. I had two foot surgeries out there. I’ve got two screws in both of my feet. It took me a while to get back, to really start believin’ in cuttin’ on a dime again. Last year was my first year feelin’ comfortable, my first time since Pittsburgh when I was goin’ into games without my foot achin’.”
I wouldn’t worry about Young Money. Young Money’s still young, average age 28. Young Money’s still moneyed, even if that part of it’s a little upside down. Wallace is making $12 million a year in Minnesota, where he has been even less productive than he was in Miami after leaving the Steelers.
Sanders is making $5 million annually in Denver, where he has given the Broncos two solid years, 2,539 yards and 15 touchdowns.
In Brown, of course, the Steelers clearly backed the right horse. Not only is AB the youngest of the three (27), he has been very nearly as productive as the other two combined the past two seasons and is signed through 2017 at about $8.5 million.
Five years ago, they were all in the Super Bowl, all faltering on the so-called stairway to seven against the Green Bay Packers.
It’s true that only Sanders has returned, but he’s not alone.
“AB is in Miami and Mike is in New Orleans and they’re just excited for this opportunity for me,” Sanders said. “They just really called and told me, ‘Man, look, we can’t suffer a loss in this game anymore. We’re all in this playing together, although you’re playing. We’re still rooting for you.’ ”
Young Money runs deep.
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @genecollier.
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