New England presented a one-year offer sheet to Sanders, who is a restricted free agent. Pittsburgh has five days to match the offer, or it can accept New England's 2013 third-round draft pick.
This is clearly a win-win scenario for the Patriots.
New England set a price it is willing to pay for Sanders, who is more proven than any receiver whom the Patriots could land in the third round of this draft. At the same time it pressures the Steelers, an AFC rival, into paying more than they wanted to keep Sanders on their roster. If Pittsburgh doesn't match, the Patriots add quality depth to their thin receiver position.
The Steelers might have no choice but to match the Patriots' offer. Losing Sanders would be a second blow to Pittsburgh's passing game. The Steelers already lost their best deep threat -- Mike Wallace -- in free agency to the Miami Dolphins. Losing Sanders would mean the Steelers have lost two of their top three receivers for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh still has receivers Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress on its roster.
New England is searching for ways to replace the immense production lost by the departures of Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker and starter Brandon Lloyd this offseason. The Patriots added receivers Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones in free agency. But is that enough for a team that wants to contend for a Super Bowl?
Sanders, who had 44 receptions for 626 yards and one touchdown last season, would be a nice addition to New England's receiving corps. But we won't know which team Sanders will play for in 2013 until the Steelers make a decision over the next five days.