The AFC North blog will take a look at one player on each team in the division who should be the priority for an extension before the season ends:
The two candidates for extensions for the Pittsburgh Steelers are wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and defensive lineman Ziggy Hood. Neither has really established himself yet in the league, but Sanders should be the priority because he'll draw more demand if he hits the free-agent market. As a restricted free agent, Sanders received an offer sheet from the New England Patriots this year. Sanders' agent indicated other teams were interested as well.
Sanders confirmed in May that the sides have begun talking about an extension. The Steelers were able to sign wide receiver Antonio Brown before his contract expired, agreeing to a six-year, $43.04 million contract (including $8.5 million signing bonus) in late July. It could be difficult to find the right value for Sanders, who has eight career starts and has never caught more than 44 passes in a season. He should easily surpass that total this year in taking over for Mike Wallace. Reaching a deal with Sanders would solidify the Steelers at wide receiver for the future. Beyond Brown and Sanders, the Steelers have rookie third-round pick Markus Wheaton and two over-30 veterans in Jerricho Cotchery (31) and Plaxico Burress (35).
The Steelers don't have much quality depth behind Hood, but they should be able to retain him in free agency. Hood hasn't lived up to expectations of being a first-round pick, which makes signing him to an extension right now a little risky. Last year, Hood was hit or miss. He recorded four one-tackle games and went two games without a tackle. But he made 24 tackles over a five-game span in December. The starting defensive front next year for Pittsburgh will likely be Hood, Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon, who signed a three-year, $7.25 million contract extension in April.