Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC East [Print without images]

Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Patriots force Steelers’ hand with Sanders

By Matt Williamson

The Patriots have reportedly signed Emmanuel Sanders, a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet. I love this move -- for New England.

Sanders
Sanders
New England is short on wide receivers, and getting Sanders for a late third-round pick (Sanders’ draft slot in 2010) would make this contending team better right away. Sanders has battled injuries, but there is no shame being stuck behind Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown during his time in Pittsburgh.

Like Brown, Sanders isn’t the biggest receiver around, but he is extremely quick and very good after the catch -- which is a must in the Patriots’ timing-based offense that Tom Brady runs so very well with great precision and accurate throws.

Sanders also has some deep-ball ability, and can line up outside the numbers or in the slot, although New England is pretty set with slot options Danny Amendola and Aaron Hernandez. But we all know that Bill Belichick craves players -- at any position -- with a wide skill set and capable of contributing in many ways. Sanders fits that, and is a great potential pickup for the price.

Not only would Sanders be a strong addition to the Patriots, but the move would also weaken a fellow AFC contender. With Wallace now in Miami, wide receiver is as great of a need for Pittsburgh as any other position. Sanders appeared to be set up to show what he could do as a starter opposite Brown. New England has far more salary-cap space and overall flexibility than the Steelers.

But worst of all for Pittsburgh, Sanders’ signing of this offer sheet forces the Steelers to make a decision they did not want to make. This is not the type of organization that wants other franchises to negotiate contracts for it -- which is essentially what New England did if Pittsburgh chooses to match, and matching could force the Steelers to further shuffle their roster and salary cap.

Also, I don’t think that the Steelers are excited about dealing a young, promising starting wide receiver for a very late third-round pick. Although they are not the clear contender the Patriots are, the Steelers are not in rebuilding mode, and who knows how much longer Ben Roethlisberger can continue playing at a high level with all the punishment he has withstood.

How will Pittsburgh respond? None of us know, but my hunch is the Steelers are not especially happy about either option presented to them.