Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert probably isn\’t shocked that the New England Patriots decided to sign restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet. After all, it is only the third time since 2001 that it has happened.
In 2001, the Patriots signed Steelers restricted free agent running back Chris Fuamatu- Ma\’afala to a one-year, $700,000 offer sheet that Colbert decided to match. Just one week later they signed him to a three-year deal worth $2.7 million that included a $750,000 signing bonus.
In 2004, the Patriots signed Steelers defensive end Rodney Bailey to a one year, $1.3 million offer sheet that included $650,000 guaranteed. The Steelers chose not to match it and received the Patriots sixth-round draft as compensation.
This year, the Patriots signed Sanders to a one-year offer sheet worth $2.5 million. It really is a shrewd move by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who clearly sees Sanders as a player that would be an asset to his offense.
So why a one-year deal and not a longer-term deal? Surely the Patriots don\’t plan on renting Sanders for one year for their third-round pick, right?
For starters, the Patriots likely have a long-term deal ready to be signed by Sanders should the Steelers decide not to match. They can\’t lower the first-year guaranteed money that Sanders is to get on his offer sheet, but they can add to it and thus keep his first-year cap hit very manageable in the process.
Second, by giving Sanders a long-term offer sheet that is front loaded, they are locking themselves into a situation that might hurt not only hurt their cap this year, but next year as well. In addition to that, should the Steelers decide to match the offer, the Patriots would have no chance at signing him next offseason.
There is a good faith gesture here as well by the Patriots. Should the Steelers match the one-year offer sheet, and not work out a long-term deal by next offseason, Sanders would become an unrestricted free agent and not likely to forget the team that got him a raise the year before.
The worst-case scenario for the Patriots is still a pretty good one as they would force the Steelers to use nearly another $1.2 million of the $1.9 million plus that they currently have at their disposal. It also might cause a little contempt between Sanders and the Steelers because the wide receiver would know that he had money waiting on the table for him in New England. Think about that for a minute.
As soon as the Patriots signed Sanders to an offer sheet, they also announced that they had signed wide receiver Julian Edelman to a one-year deal as well. This at least assures them one extra wide receiver will be under contract with the possibility of two.
The timing of the whole thing is perfect in addition to the aforementioned. Should the Steelers decide to match, the Patriots will have plenty of time before the draft to look a little closer at some draft hopeful wide receivers.
All in all, it\’s a win-win deal for the Patriots, and Colbert probably is already aware of it. He now has a pretty big decision ahead of him that needs to be made by Sunday evening.