- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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The clock is ticking for the Pittsburgh Steelers to match the one-year offer that the Patriots submitted for restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, and the decision remains a popular topic of discussion.
Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette remains ardent in his belief that the Steelers should not match the contract. Among the factors considered are that matching the offer is no guarantee that Sanders will be signed to a new deal next offseason, and also the financial constraints it would put on the organization.
Let’s say the Steelers matched and kept him for 2013. It would mean they’d want to keep him long-term as well. They can then try to negotiate a multiple-year contract with Sanders. But what if he pulls a Mike Wallace and no matter what they offer, he rejects?
In essence, they would go through another season with a lame-duck starter at wide receiver, and they will have thrown away the chance to acquire a third-round pick for him.
Also, while they do have room under the salary cap to cover that $2.5 million -- they need, remember, only about $1.2 million more over what they already are committed to him -- it would bring them within about $700,000 of their cap limit. They will clear $5.5 million more in cap space in June because of their release of Willie Colon, but they will need much of that to sign their rookie draft picks.
Both Bouchette and former Patriots personnel man Scott Pioli were on Wednesday's edition of Pro Football Talk Live to discuss the situation, and Pioli offered some unique insight regarding Sanders. He noted that the Patriots have a history of signing restricted free agents to offer sheets that extends back to when Bill Belichick and Pioli arrived in Foxborough.
Five players were signed by the Patriots to restricted free agent offer sheets from 2000-2005: offensive lineman Spencer Folau (2000, Ravens), running back/core special teamer Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (2001, Steelers), linebacker/core special teamer Mike Maslowski (2002, Chiefs), defensive lineman Cedric Woodard (2003, Seahawks) and defensive lineman Rodney Bailey (2004, Steelers). While none of these players were stars, they were critical role players. During the resurgence of the Patriots, such role players became integral parts of their success, often blossoming into starters and more productive players (prominent examples include Mike Vrabel, Matt Stevens and Larry Izzo). Restricted free agency was a vehicle to find those players then, and remains an option for the Patriots to do so today.
Pioli also discussed the benefit of signing Sanders to a one-year offer sheet versus a multi-year offer sheet: if the Steelers decide to match, he will be available again next offseason. If the Patriots had extended a, for example, three-year deal, a player they covet wouldn't be on the open market again until 2016, at which point he'll be closing in on 30. There's an element to business relations involved as well, as extending a player an offer worth nearly double what he was scheduled to earn is something that the player keeps in mind when he hits the open market again, and helps the Patriots' cause. "Generally, it just cultivates a good relationship between the team that offered and the player," Pioli said.
Another factor that Pioli highlighted is the true value of the draft pick in play, as he mentioned, "not all third-round picks are the same." In this case, the Patriots are offering the 91st pick in a draft that they might not be comfortable with what receivers project to be available at that time (Pioli believes Sanders is a better player than any receiver the Patriots could take 91st overall). Much like the 20th pick in the first round has less value than the eighth pick in the first round, the 91st pick is less valuable than the 70th pick.
These under-the-radar factors that Pioli brought to light have made him a worthwhile listen during his radio and television appearances, as few media analysts are as familiar with the organization's philosophy as he is.
To see the entire Pioli segment from Pro Football Talk Live, click HERE.