Two teams with a lack of depth at the wide receiver position could be squaring off in a rare restricted free agency battle. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is said to have signed an offer sheet with the Patriots, meaning the Steelers would have a week to match it or receive a third round pick from New England.
In what has become a back-and-forth news battle, add one more source to the "Emmanuel Sanders has signed an offer sheet" camp. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette added late Friday to what Behind The Steel Curtain reported earlier - Sanders has been given an offer, but it is pending a physical, which was taking place Friday evening.
Observer-Reporter's Dale Lolley reported he left town without a contract, but the ramifications are really where the news is. The Steelers are in something of a salary cap bind, and would not be expected to match an offer from another team for Sanders, a fourth-year player out of SMU. He's shown talent in his career, but injury concerns have dogged him throughout his time in Pittsburgh.
The Patriots and Steelers both lost important wide receivers when Wes Welker signed with the Broncos and Mike Wallace left for Miami. The Patriots nabbing Sanders would cost them a third round pick, but they would gain a vitally important dynamic receivers who can make plays inside the hashes and outside the numbers.
New England signed Danny Amendola, another injury-plagued receiver, earlier in free agency, but with Tom Brady having accepted an extension that's well below market value, the Patriots' move into restricted free agency smacks of "right now" more than "right." While Sanders has shown he can be a productive player, the kind of money he'd likely want to leave the only team he's played for could inflate his value somewhat.
However, given the Steelers' immediate cap concerns, a front-loaded contract with a hefty chunk of cash up front could simply be all it takes for the Steelers to decline to match.
Think of it like a poison pill without the poison. If the Patriots gave him $7 million up front over a four-year deal, the cap hit would be easily absorbed by the Patriots. The Steelers, however, would have to add another $500,000 to this year's salary cap - not something they want to do. The Patriots could easily absorb it, and it wouldn't be a bad gamble, considering their lack of depth at receiver and the relatively low price (a third round pick and $1.75 million cap charge over four years). Also, Sanders is still young, as he will turn 26 on March 17.
Update: The Washington-Observer is reporting that Sanders has left New England without signing the offer sheet, contradicting the the report from the Post Gazette. Dale Lolley reports that the Patriots are mulling over an offer sheet for Sanders.
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