Just hours away from losing Emmanuel Sanders to the Patriots, the Steelers decided to retain their restricted free-agent receiver.
According to Sanders' agent Jordan Woy, Pittsburgh matched New England's 1-year, $2.5 million:
Pitt has matched the RFA offer sheet on Emmanuel Sanders. First RFA to get offer in 3 years— Jordan Woy (@JordanWoy) April 14, 2013
As a result of the move, the Patriots get to keep their third-round pick, which would have gone to Pittsburgh had the Steelers decided to let Sanders walk.
The Steelers originally tendered Sanders at $1.3 million, so their decision to match New England's offer means they've taken on an additional $1.2 million against the salary cap. Since they're already up against it -- they had to let linebacker James Harrison go earlier this offseason in an effort to save cash -- keeping Sanders will require some financial finagling. Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran said earlier today that Troy Polamalu would be a prime candidate to have his deal restructured in order to make the Sanders deal work.
Though the move costs the Steelers financially, it makes sense that they might want to keep one of their top three receivers in the fold after losing Mike Wallace to the Dolphins in free agency this offseason.
Sanders would have provided the Patriots with some much-needed depth, not to mention versatility, at receiver. He has played both outside and in the slot for the Steelers, and he finished last season with 44 catches for 626 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots may now turn to find their next receiver in the draft later this week. Tom Brady's receiver options currently include free-agent pickups Danny Amendola and Donald Jones as well as holdovers Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater. Veteran Michael Jenkins and reserves Jeremy Ebert, Kamar Aiken and Andre Holmes round out the receiving corps.
For his part, Sanders seems to be in good spirits. And why shouldn't he be? The guy just almost doubled his salary, and he gets to remain in a system with which he's presumably pretty comfortable:
Glad the business side is out of the way. Now its back to playing football and bringing number 7 back to Pittsburgh. Love!!! #Steelernation— Emmanuel Sanders (@E_Sanders88) April 14, 2013