Patriots sign Emmanuel Sanders to restricted free agent offer sheet

Jared Wickerham

Will the Steelers match the offer for the wide receiver or settle for a draft pick instead?

The New England Patriots extended an offer sheet to Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, according to Jason La Confora. Sanders' agent later confirmed to LaCanfora that his client signed the offer sheet.

Adam Schefter of ESPN adds that the Patriots offer is only for one year. Financial details of the offer have not been reported, but Schefter does not expect the financials to hold back Pittsburgh from trying to retain him via the team's right to match. Pittsburgh has five days to match the offer.

If the Steelers let Sanders sign with New England, they would receive a third-round selection from the Patriots, reflecting the Steelers' RFA tender.

Pittsburgh is up against the cap, making the situation somewhat tricky. The Steelers have roughly $2 million in cap space. Money can always be moved around, but the team has to be careful not to jeopardize future spending priorities. Pittsburgh lost quite a few players in recent years because of onerous contracts for players.

New England wants to add a real deep threat at wide receiver after releasing Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd was a productive player but never quite clicked with Tom Brady and the offense, posting 74 receptions, 911 yards and four touchdowns.

Last season, Sanders caught a career-high 44 balls for 626 yards while finding the end zone once. Going into his fourth season, the 26-year-old out of SMU has 1,290 yards in his career with five touchdowns.

Sanders has great speed but has always been the third or fourth receiver during his time with the Steelers behind the likes of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and at times, Hines Ward. The Steelers drafted Sanders in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft. That predates the league's current collective bargaining agreement which establishes four-year rookie contracts, all but eliminating restricted free agency.

Pittsburgh would feel the loss of Sanders, especially after losing Wallace in free agency. That would leave the team with Brown in the playmaking receiver category. However, a third-round pick could give the team some flexibility to find a suitable replacement, if not an upgrade, in this year's draft.

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