The Steelers, deciding they could not lose another veteran receiver, today matched the one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet Emmanuel Sanders signed with the New England Patriots five days ago.
That keeps Sanders for at least one more season in Pittsburgh, but he can leave as an unrestricted free agent next year if they do not come to a longer-term deal. Had the Steelers not matched New England's offer by today's deadline, they would have received in return the Patriots' third-round pick in this year's draft.
The Steelers already lost Mike Wallace, who signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the Miami Dolphins as an unrestricted free agent. Sanders, their No. 3 receiver in 2012, is projected to replace Wallace as their starting split end.
By signing the offer sheet with the Patriots, Sanders nearly doubled the salary the Steelers planned to pay him in 2013. They tendered him a one-year deal of $1.323 million as a restricted free agent. He became the only RFA in the past three years to sign an offer sheet with another team.
Sanders, a third-round draft pick in 2010, caught 44 passes for 626 yards and one touchdown last season. In his career, he has caught 94 passes for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns. The Steelers projected him and Antonio Brown to be their starters next season.
In addition to losing Wallace, the Steelers do not know when tight end Heath Miller will be ready to start the season after he had surgery to repair two of the three knee ligaments, including the ACL, torn Dec. 23 in the 15th game.
Miller led the Steelers in 2012 with 71 receptions, Brown caught 66, Wallace 64 and Sanders was fourth on the team with his 44 catches.
The Steelers and Sanders could now negotiate a long-term deal that would prevent him from leaving as a UFA next year. However, they were unable to come to terms with Wallace when he was a restricted free agent playing under a tender of $2.7 million last year. They, instead, signed Brown to a six-year, $43 million contract early in training camp.
Wallace, though, did not sign his tender and did not report to the team until late August, which is permitted under the CBA. Sanders, who came under contract when he signed his one-year offer from New England, will be required to participate in training camp and the three-day June minicamp at the very least.
The Steelers have two other veterans on their roster, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress, who also have one year left on their contracts. The team is expected to still try to fortify the position in the draft.Steelers - mobilehome - breaking
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelersat www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette:firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published April 14, 2013 10:45 PM