Curran: Risk abounds with Sanders deal

Curran: Risk abounds with Sanders deal
April 10, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Now it’s clear why it took nearly a month for Emmanuel Sanders and the Patriots to agree to an offer sheet with the Patriots.
Both sides are taking a risk with the one-year deal Sanders has agreed to as a restricted free agent.
For Sanders, a 26-year-old taken by the Steelers in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, the risk is far less daunting than for the Patriots
Sanders was given the lowest possible restricted free-agent tender by the Steelers, an offer that would have paid him $1.33 million in 2013.
The Steelers, knowing they’d receive a compensatory draft pick from the round in which Sanders was originally drafted, rolled the dice likely taking into account the fact most teams don’t make moves on RFAs.
For $700,000 more, the Steelers could have made Sanders a mid-level tender and received a second-round pick in compensation. And for $2.8 million, they could have high-tendered Sanders and the chance any team would have made a run at him would have been remote.
But now, Pittsburgh -- which is rammed up against the salary cap -- has five days to decide whether to match the Patriots’ offer (the 2013 salary offer is still unknown but it will likely make Pittsburgh have to do some hoop-jumping) or let Sanders go and get the Patriots’ third-round pick.
On the surface, it’s a great deal for Sanders. He gets a raise and plays on a Super Bowl contender in an offense that makes good players look great. Then he hits unrestricted free agency.
But Sanders’ risk is in leaving Pittsburgh and a system and quarterback he knows to uproot for a far more sophisticated passing game. As for numbers heading into unrestricted free agency, it could be argued that Sanders is in line for a big 2013 with the Steelers after the free-agent departure of their No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace.
By comparison, the Patriots appear to have greater risk. They would conceivably be sacrificing a third-round pick on a one-year rental if Sanders doesn’t re-sign in New England.
And the Patriots currently have just five picks in this month’s draft -- a first, second, third and two sevenths. Signing Sanders would leave them with just four picks. Where did the other picks go? The fourth was dealt last year for Aqib Talib. The fifth and sixth-rounders were coughed up for Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth, respectively, in 2011.
With Ocho and Albert already gone and Talib and Sanders on one-year deals, the Patriots could conceivably get just 4 1/2 total seasons from their third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-rounders in 2013 (the half is there because Haynesworth got lopped midway through 2011). And the production from those four picks is potentially verrrrry low.
All this has certainly dawned on Bill Belichick by now. One thing we’ve long since learned is that, when the Patriots are seeming to do something bizarre, there are machinations at work that haven’t yet revealed themselves.
There could be a significant trade that would recoup picks. Or the team may have concluded that, after their second-rounder, there just isn’t enough talent in this draft to unseat the youthful players the team has all over its roster in key spots.
Or the offer to Sanders is a start with the verbal promise of a fatter one down the road.
All will be revealed. For now, though, the Steelers are on the clock.