The New England Patriots signed wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet, giving the Pittsburgh Steelers five days to match the contract to retain the restricted free agent.
According to multiple reports, the offer is for one year but the value of the contract is unknown. If the Steelers don't match the offer, they will receive a third-round pick as compensation.
The Steelers have minimal salary cap space, and matching any contract offer could be prohibitive. Pittsburgh would be left with only Antonio Brown among its top three wide receivers from 2012 if Sanders departs. Mike Wallace signed a $60 million contract with the Miami Dolphins in March.
With tight end Heath Miller returning from a torn ACL and other roster needs -- namely an aging defense -- the Steelers would be forced to bolster their receiving corps through the draft. Veterans Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery are under contract for 2013, but are not likely to be cast in leading roles.
Restocking that position in the draft hasn't been a problem for GM Kevin Colbert in recent years. Wallace (third round), Sanders (third round) and Brown (sixth round) were all chosen on what is now the third day of the draft.
Sanders visited the Patriots on March 15.
The diminutive slot receiver and return specialist caught 44 receptions for 626 yards (14.2-yard average) and one touchdown in 2012.