Saunders joined the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2011. Saunders went undrafted largely because discipline issues impacted his college career.
Prior to those issues, some experts projected him as high as a second round pick.
Although Saunders only had four receptions as a rookie, many pegged him to develop into the next Kevin Colbert's undrafted rookie free agent steal.
However, Saunders ran afoul of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, and was forced to serve a four game suspension. Many expected the team to activate him today, but obviously the team moved in a different direction.
Salary Cap Concerns and the Development of David Paulson
The Steelers certainly weren't going to carry four tight ends, which meant that one of the three on their roster would have to go. Heath Miller certainly was going no where.
That left Leonard Pope and David Paulson. Saunders had not started particularly strong in preseason but came on late with three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown.
Entering the season David Paulson was seen as keeping a roster spot warm for Saunders, but Paulson has played well both on special teams and had even made his presence felt in the receiving game.
In contrast, Pope, a free agent acquisition, had done little to justify the investment the Steelers made in acquiring him.
But therein (perhaps) lies the catch. Had the Steelers cut Pope they’d have been on the hook for his entire salary for the 2012 season. Now, per the Post-Gazette report announcing his waiver, Pope was only making the veteran minimum.
But the Steelers salary cap situation is precarious and with mounting injuries, the team needs to limit dollars spent on players no longer with the team. This may not be the only, or even chief reason the Steelers opted for Pope over Saunders, but it has to have factored into their decision.