As reported in multiple places tonight the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to match the Patriots $2.5 million dollar offer signed by WR Emmanuel Sanders. The Steelers now have a binding agreement with Sanders and he is no longer a free agent. I admit that I was a bit surprised that the Steelers matched the offer due to their cap position and the fact that absent a long term contract Sanders will simply become a free agent after the 2013 season.
With that in mind I wonder if the Steelers would now approach the Patriots about a trade for Sanders. The whole process is in many ways a game of poker. The Steelers showed part of their hand when they placed the $1.323 million dollar tender on Sanders. The Patriots revealed their hand when they placed a number value on him that fell in between that of a 1st and 2nd round tender. Now the question is would the Steelers take that knowledge and go back to the Patriots and offer the Patriots Sanders for a 2nd round pick or a combination of other draft choices?
For as good as the Patriots are their receiving corps. is in a bit of disarray. Leading receiver Wes Welker is gone to Denver and Brandon Lloyd wore out his welcome and was let go after just one season. They replaced Welker with the upside of the younger Danny Amendola but Amendola is a walking injury, having played in just 12 games the last two seasons. TE’s Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowksi missed 11 games combined last year and both are injury concerns, with rumors out there that Gronkowski could miss the entire preseason. That leaves the Patriots with veteran Michael Jenkins as their most reliable receiver, a player who never once topped 800 yards in a single year. Backups Julian Edelman and Donald Jones have missed 10 and 12 games respectively over the last two years, with both finishing the 2012 season on injured reserve.
The Patriots have gone down the chasing of a RFA and trade route before when they acquired Welker from the Miami Dolphins in 2007. The Patriots had indicated that they were going to sign Welker to an offer sheet and the Dolphins seemed to make it known they would match a standard offer rather than take back the 2nd round compensation. Rather than going through the process the Dolphins and Patriots worked out a trade in which the Patriots gave up a 7th rounder in addition to the 2nd rounder to acquire Welker. It proved to be one of the great trades in the NFL as Welker had a great career in New England while Miami struggled to find competent receivers. the Patriots do have two 7th round picks this year that could be used in a trade.
Because the Patriots has signed Sanders to an offer sheet the trade process becomes a bit more convoluted as Sanders now essentially has a no-trade clause to the Patriots. Per the terms of the CBA Sanders can only be traded to New England if he agrees to such a trade. This little known rule came into play in 2009 when the Jets had matched an offer sheet from the Cleveland Browns to S Abram Elam. The Jets later included Elam in a draft day trade with Cleveland in which they acquired the right to draft QB Mark Sanchez. Without Elam’s consent the trade could not have happened. Also if traded before the 19th the NFL Players Association would also need to approve of the trade in addition to Sanders. While I don’t think that would be an issue, considering he signed with the Patriots in the first place, but it is a factor to consider when going the wild speculation route.
I’m sure we will get a better idea in the next 24-48 hours if the chasing of Sanders is over, but this is just another thought to consider when working through the planning process of managing your roster and trying to extract the most value you can from your players