Emmanuel Sanders facing uncertain future

PITTSBURGH -- Receiver Emmanuel Sanders is trying not to let nostalgia interfere with his job but he couldn't block out this reality even if he tried: The fourth-year veteran may play his final game in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform Sunday.

And that is if Sanders' injured knee is strong enough for him to play against the Browns at Heinz Field. Sanders did not practice on Tuesday, and he got treatment on his knee Wednesday, the players' day off this week.

"I'm taking in everything," Sanders said, "because I remember when Mike [Wallace] left I didn't think that was going to be the last time I hung out with Mike in Pittsburgh or played in a game with him. You never know what might happen in the offseason so I'm just trying to reminisce and chill with the guys."

Sanders will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and what makes his future hard to predict is that a case can be made for the Steelers either to re-sign him or to let him walk.

Sanders has caught a career-high six touchdowns, has flashed big-play ability as both a wideout and a kickoff returner and still has some upside since this is his first season starting.

But Sanders' well-documented drops have raised questions about his consistency, and his high opinion of his skills will price him out of the Steelers' range if another team agrees with him. Plus the Steelers might want to draft or sign a taller receiver to start opposite Antonio Brown, who is the same body type as Sanders who is 5-11 and 180 pounds.

"I feel like I've showcased enough to show that I am a starter in this league," said Sanders, who has caught 65 passes for 714 yards this season. "I feel like I've gotten better. I'm really liking where my game's going. I've got a lot to build off of for the rest of my career."

Will Sanders build on those things in Pittsburgh?

"I want to be here. I love it here," Sanders said. "I hope everything works out for the best."

The Steelers liked Sanders enough to match the one-year, $2.5 million contract he signed with the Patriots as a restricted free agent last March. They could have taken a third-round draft pick as compensation instead of retaining Sanders.

Sanders at least figures to test the market this year, and the interest he generates as an unrestricted free agent could be the biggest factor in whether the Steelers make a serious run at re-signing him.

For now Sanders is trying not to think about the "variables" he doesn't control.

"I'm still optimistic that everything will work itself out," he said, "and hopefully we'll have four or five more weeks together if we can get in these playoffs."