Emmanuel Sanders on Ben Roethlisberger: “That bridge was burnt”

49ers receiver Emmanuel Sanders is scheduled to become a free agent in March. One thing seems certain about his uncertain future: There is zero chance he returns to Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger still the Steelers quarterback.

“I would love that, but me and Ben don’t have the best relationship. I believe that bridge is burnt,” Sanders told Ed Bouchette of TheAthletic.com.

Sanders spent his first four seasons with the Steelers after they made him a third-round choice in 2010, and he made 161 catches for 2,030 yards and 11 touchdowns. He earned his first Pro Bowl the following season, in his first season in Denver.

Sanders blew up the bridge with his former quarterback in his first training camp with the Broncos when he said Peyton Manning was a “far better leader” than Roethlisberger. That and Sanders’ additional statement that “this is the first time that I had a quarterback that stays every single day after practice” prompted even Antonio Brown to jump to Roethlisberger’s defense.

Today, Sanders stands behind what he said almost six years ago. He meant every word.

But Sanders also said “Ben grew up a lot” since then.

“When I first got to Pittsburgh, Ben was still like a little bit of [a jerk] and a lot of people didn’t know that,” Sanders told Bouchette. “That was in 2010. Ben has grown up a lot, you know? He was still like a [jerk]. I had to deal with him for like two years as a rookie with him being [a jerk], you know. I said who the [heck] is this dude? So I grew to not like him but just to deal with him. But from what I’ve heard, he’s grown up a lot, which is good because I’ve grown up, too.”