Emmanuel Sanders, a restricted free agent, is visiting the Patriots on Friday, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. The Patriots, who entered free agency among the top 10 teams in cap space, could make an offer to Sanders that the cap-strapped Steelers can't match.
The Steelers have the first right of refusal on any offer sheet for Sanders after placing the $1.3 million tender on him. If the Steelers don't match the offer, Pittsburgh would receive a third-round pick (where Sanders was drafted) in compensation.
Sanders, who turns 26 on Sunday, is a quick and athletic receiver who caught a career-high 44 passes in 2012, doubling his production from the previous season. Even before this visit, the Steelers might have had plans to sign Sanders to an extension, which would be lower than the one given to Antonio Brown ($43 million over six years) last summer.
Losing Sanders would be a surprising move (restricted free agents rarely draw interest anymore) and a significant blow to a Steelers team already in transition. It's uncertain who would replace Sanders on this current roster. The only Steelers wide receivers with any experience right now are: Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, Plaxico Burress and David Gilreath.
If the Steelers lost Sanders, it would add another question mark to the offense, which doesn't have a featured running back and faces uncertainty with the status of tight end Heath Miller (torn ACL).