A normally nonexistent restricted free agent market received a jolt on Wednesday as multiple reports have the New England Patriots extending an offer sheet to Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
Financial terms were not disclosed, but according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Patriots have offered Sanders a one-year contract.
The salary cap-strapped Steelers placed an "Original Round" tender on Sanders, a third-round pick (No. 82 overall) out of SMU in 2010. Sanders' one-year tender with the Steelers is worth $1.323 million in non-guaranteed base salary. The Steelers might be hard-pressed to match New England's offer as they are currently $1.92 million under their "Adjusted Cap Number" of $124.423 million for the 2013 season, though additional space could be created by restructuring the contracts of safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller, or releasing an aging veteran such as defensive end Brett Keisel or safety Ryan Clark.
Pittsburgh has five days to match the offer. If the Steelers decline to match, they will save $1.323 million in cap space and pick up a third-round pick from the Patriots, who currently have the 91st overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft.
Sanders, 26, is coming off his best season in the NFL, catching 44 passes for 626 yards with one touchdown while starting seven of 16 games and playing in 67.67 percent of the Steelers' offensive snaps. Among NFL wide receivers, Sanders ranked 22nd in Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) metric and has 94 receptions for 1,260 yards and five touchdowns in his 40-game NFL career.
Sanders would give the Patriots the deep threat they currently lack at the receiver position after releasing veteran Brandon Lloyd this offseason. The Patriots also lost Wes Welker to the Denver Broncos in free agency and, in the wake of those two moves, have signed Danny Amendola and added veterans Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins. Sanders would certainly compete for a starting job as the "X" receiver in New England's offense.