NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette the Patriots have signed Steelers Restricted Free Agent WR Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet. Sanders was in Foxboro on Friday, but it was unknown up to this point if he signed an offer sheet. By signing the offer sheet the Patriots force the Steelers to match the contract offer or give him up to the Patriots. In doing so the Patriots will have to surrender their 3rd round pick (#92) to the Steelers.
Update: Multiple sources, including Tom Curran and Adam Schefter have contradicted the earlier and state that an offer sheet has not been signed.
If the report turns out to be true, it’s an example of Patriots flexing their free agent muscle over the cap strapped Steelers. Restricted free agency has become almost extinct in the NFL, but it appears the Patriots saw an opportunity to make their thin and change wide receiver corp more dynamic for a reasonable price. Since, Sanders was tendered with and “original round” tag, the team that signs him is only forced to give up a third round pick or work out a trade.
Sanders just completed his third full season in the league, all with the Steelers. He was picked in the third round, number 82 overall of the 2010 NFL Draft. This past season in Pittsburgh he totaled 44 receptions and 626 yards, his best statistical season to date.
There is a bit of a back story with Sanders and the Patriots that may shed some light on the interest. During the 2010 draft process the Patriots shows a great deal of interest in the Southern Methodist receiver. The Patriots held a private work out with Sanders and it was reported at the time that Patriots then Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien personally worked Sanders out prior to the draft. (Pats Hold Workout with Sanders)
Sanders ended up being selected eight spots ahead of the Patriots pick, who then turned their sights on Taylor Price (UGH). The coaching staff is very familiar with Sanders so the interest seems very real. If indeed the Patriots did sign him to an offer sheet, the Steelers would be hard pressed to match. According to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune, the Steelers have just about 3 million in cap room. With so little space and plenty of needs to still fill it’s tough to imagine they would match a decent sized offer.
We will have much more in the morning, when more sources confirm.