The Patriots' one-year offer sheet to Steelers restricted free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders (financial terms not known) is fascinating on multiple levels.
1. Connections to 2004 offer sheet. This reminds me of the 2004 offer sheet that Steelers restricted free agent defensive lineman Rodney Bailey signed with the Patriots (one year, $1.3 million, $650,000 guaranteed). The Steelers didn’t match and received the Patriots’ sixth-round draft choice in return. With Bailey, the Patriots didn’t put together an offer sheet that would be hard to match financially. The hope was that the Steelers, philosophically, would see more value in the sixth-round pick than the one-year increased salary to a player they were somewhat cool on at the time. Based on tweets from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, the situation with Sanders mirrors what unfolded with Bailey in 2004.
2. Potential fit in Patriots' offense. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Sanders has flexibility to line up in a variety of spots, but his primary value to the Patriots would be on the outside. That's where the glaring need remains for the Patriots.
3. Could be quiet on draft day. The Patriots currently have five draft choices. If the Steelers don’t match the offer sheet to Sanders, the Patriots would surrender their third-round draft choice to Pittsburgh. A draft in which Bill Belichick entered with just four selections -- it would be a first-round pick, second-round pick and two seventh-rounders if Pittsburgh doesn't match -- is a stunning turn from the norm, in which he’s usually overstocked with draft-chip ammunition.
4. Track record at receiver a factor for Patriots. The Patriots’ track record of drafting and developing receivers out of college is shaky. Having seen three years of Sanders in the NFL probably gives the club more comfort in making this move, which reminds us of something Belichick said at the NFL’s annual meeting in March: “As I’ve said many times before, I think the college passing game is a lot different than the [pro] passing game -- pass protection, pass rush, pass execution and pass defense. We all look at the same film. We’re all trying to evaluate the same players. But it’s a lot easier to watch a guy in the NFL perform and translate his skills for your team than watch a guy in college perform because of the discrepancy in the passing game. It’s nobody’s fault. That’s just the way it is.’’
5. Economics can't be overlooked. From an economic perspective, the Patriots’ willingness to give up a cheaper four-year rookie deal that would go to a third-round pick -- and take on a more lucrative one-year deal in its place -- is telling. In part, it speaks to their need at receiver. It also should be noted that their discipline in managing the salary cap provides them the opportunity to think along these lines.
6. Interest in Sanders always legit. When the Patriots hosted Sanders on a visit last month, some viewed it as a potential leverage play against veteran receiver Brandon Lloyd, who was in talks with the club to reduce his salary. That obviously wasn’t the case. There was genuine interest in Sanders in part because of how the Patriots viewed he could fit in their system based on their tape study from his time with the Steelers. Always was.