After weeks, months and perhaps even years (I’ve blocked it from my memory) of rumors than an NFL team would submit an offer for another team’s restricted free agent, it’s finally happened.
The Pittsburgh Steelers tendered restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders at the third-round level this off-season. In layman’s terms, that means Sanders is free to negotiate a contract with every team in the league, but that the Steelers will have the right to match any deal he reaches. If the Steelers opt not to match, they would receive a third-round pick from the team that signed Sanders.
Considering that Sanders is a very promising young receiver, you’d think a number of NFL teams would be interested in negotiating with him. After all, a third-round selection isn’t much to give up for a potential starter.
You’d be wrong, though.
NFL teams never negotiate with each other’s restricted free agents. In fact, the total lack of interest in RFAs has led some in the media to speculate that there’s an unspoken agreement among NFL teams to not touch each other’s restricted free agent assets. Such an agreement would be collusion, by the way.
In 2010, only one RFA received an offer sheet. In 2011, no offers were made. It was the same thing again in 2012.
It looked like we were heading down the same path this off-season, too. That just changed, however:
The Patriots just submitted an offer sheet on Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders. some actual restricted free agent movement. Wow
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) April 10, 2013
This looks like a shrewd move on the part of the Patriots. The team is in need of a speedy receiver who can stretch the field after Brandon Lloyd didn’t have the impact the team had hoped in 2012. Sanders can be that player.
More importantly, the Steelers are very tight up against the salary cap and the Patriots have more than enough space to offer Sanders a front-loaded deal that the Steelers simply can’t match. According to numerous reports on Twitter, that’s exactly what the team has done. The offer is reportedly for one year.
A third-round pick sounds like too much to give up for only one year of a player, but the Patriots likely believe they can re-sign Sanders to an extension.
Once Sanders accepts the Patriots’ offer sheet (which is very likely to occur), the Steelers will have a brief period in which to decide to match the offer.