For once, it's not about the money.
NFLcom's Albert Breer reported Wednesday that Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders signed an offer sheet with the New England Patriots worth "only" $2.5 million over one year. The Steelers have five days to decide to match and retain Sanders or take the Patriots' third-round pick.
So what does this relatively low contract offer tell us?
The Patriots aren't necessarily trying to make it impossible for the Steelers to match it financially. The Steelers could make the money work if they really wanted to. New England is betting that the Steelers would prefer to take a third-round draft pick over keeping Sanders. The Patriots probably are right.
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport talked to a source who said Pittsburgh's decision would come "down to the wire," but my guess is the Steelers let Sanders walk.
If the Steelers were willing to pay Sanders this much, they could have tendered him as a restricted free agent at a higher level. Instead, they gave Sanders an "original pick" tender worth just more than $1.3 million. The offer sheet that Sanders signed is for one year, but it has long-term implications.
If the Steelers aren't confident that Sanders will be around past 2013, they'd surely rather have a third-round pick under their control for four years. New England, meanwhile, still could sign Sanders long-term in the upcoming months. I'd expect it.
It makes no sense for the Patriots to give up a third-round pick for just one year of Sanders. It makes a lot of sense for the Patriots to sign Sanders to a one-year deal now, and then sign Sanders to a long-term extension at some point before the season. (It wouldn't be a surprise if the Patriots already had parameters of a long-term deal in place with Sanders. That would be against league rules, but impossible to prove.)@greggrosenthal.