Pats match Broncos' offer to hold on to Sauerbrun

The New England Patriots retained punter Todd Sauerbrun on Monday night by matching the one-year contract that the three-time Pro-Bowler signed with the Denver Broncos last week.

By matching the deal, the Patriots inherit the contract for the 2007 season. The contract, with incentives, is worth $1.3 million-$1.4 million. It will be interesting to see how Sauerbrun reacts to the decision, since he said last week he hoped New England would not match the deal and would allow him to finish his career with a Broncos team that released him only five months ago.

Although he is a "vested" veteran, with 12 years of NFL experience, Sauerbrun agreed to an individually negotiated right of first refusal with the Pats, when he signed a one-year deal in late December. That right of first refusal provided the Patriots seven days, until Tuesday, to either match the contract or pass on it.

Such rights of first refusal, especially for such a longtime veteran, are uncommon. They are not, however, unheard of.

The agreement did not include a so-called "poison pill" stipulation that would have made it more difficult to match. It did feature a no-trade clause and also stipulates that the Pats cannot designate Sauerbrun as a franchise or transition player next spring, when the one-year contract expires.

Sauerbrun, 34, has been one of the league's premier punters, but also a lightning rod, for much of his career. He was among the former Carolina Panthers players alleged to have purchased illegal supplements from a Columbia, S.C., doctor.

Last summer, the NFL suspended Sauerbrun for four games for a violation of the steroid abuse policy.

When he returned from his suspension, the Broncos released Sauerbrun, and instead used second-year veteran Paul Ernster as their punter. After his release last October, Sauerbrun auditioned for several franchises, then signed with the Patriots, who had lost veteran punters Josh Miller (shoulder) and Ken Walter (foot) to injuries.

He punted in two games for the Pats and also in the playoffs.

A former West Virginia University star, Sauerebrun has appeared in 164 games with Chicago (1995-99), Kansas City (2000), Carolina (2001-2004), Denver (2005) and New England (2006). Sauerbrun's career gross average is 44.0 yards and his net average is 36.0 yards. He has 250 punts inside the 20-yard line and only 102 touchbacks.

Sauerbrun has also handled kickoff chores at various times in his career. His kickoff average is 62.0 yards and he has 60 touchbacks on 475 kickoffs.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.