The Steelers have matched the Patriots' $2.5 million offer sheet to restricted free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders, agent Jordan Woy said Sunday.
The Patriots will retain their third-round draft choice (91st overall).
The Steelers, who were tight to the salary cap entering the offseason, had tendered Sanders at the original-pick level ($1.3 million). The Patriots hoped to pry Sanders away by almost doubling the offer -- and were willing to give up a third-round pick -- but the Steelers blocked the move.
If Sanders doesn't extend his contract with the Steelers this year, the Patriots could pursue him in unrestricted free agency next year.
Meanwhile, the Patriots' pursuit of Sanders reveals their internal view of the receiver position for 2013, to a point, and highlights the importance of the team adding to the position, most likely in the draft.
The Patriots have hosted a handful of receivers on pre-draft visits at Gillette Stadium, a group including Southern Cal's Robert Woods and Oregon State's Markus Wheaton, but the club has had shaky results when it comes to drafting and developing receivers in Bill Belichick's tenure.