Potentially Patriots: RFA Emmanuel Sanders signed to offer sheet


In a move that is sure to shake up mock drafts across the land, the New England Patriots have signed Pittsburgh restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet.

Terms have not been disclosed, but the offer appears to be for one year, which some would consider curious because the Patriots – who have just five picks in the upcoming NFL draft – would have to surrender their third round pick should the Steelers not be able (or are unwilling) to match the offer.

December 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (88) reacts after making pass reception for a first down against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Cincinnati Bengals won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

But a one year deal would make it even harder for the Steelers to match, given that to match whatever the money total is from the Patriots, the Steelers would have to spread signing bonuses and salary across several years to come in under the cap – but there is no wiggle room, and whatever Pittsburgh matched with would have to count against this year’s cap.

Given that knowledge, New England’s one year offer is sure to total above and beyond anything that the Steelers could reasonably come up with short of restructuring contracts or releasing players.

The timing is about right too, as the deadline for submitting offers to restricted free agents is April 16th.

The Patriots hosted Sanders at the beginning of the free agency period, but have been mulling over the move since.  The signing certainly puts the Steelers between a rock and hard place, as they have very little cap room to work with to try and match whatever the offer to Sanders is…

…which is sure to be excessive given the volatility of the situation.  The Patriots let slot receiver Wes Welker defect to Denver and released Brandon Lloyd, while signing slot receiver Danny Amendola and wide outs Donald Jones and Mike Jenkins.  Jones is considered to be no more than a possession receiver and Jenkins earned the nickname “Molasses Mike” for his lack of speed, and neither is considered a lock to make the roster.

Now the Steelers have five days to match the offer or accept the 91st overall selection in the draft, but they can not afford to lose another receiver now that they have already lost Mike Wallace to the Dolphins.  Such a loss would cause the names Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery to rise to starters on Pittsburgh’s depth chart.

If the Patriots do indeed bring Sanders into the fold, they get what the draft could not give them: A blazing fast 26 year old vertical threat with three years of NFL experience – and once he is in the door, then they can work out an extension to keep him in Foxboro long-term.

The Patriots could then trade down out of the 1st round to acquire a similar pick, for which they could draft another receiver such as Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton or Tennessee Tech’s Da’Rick Rogers, a corner like Boise State’s Jamar Taylor and an outside linebacker like Rutger’s Kahseem Greene.

But for now, it’s wait-and-see mode for the Patriots, as they await word of what Pittsburgh’s next move is.