The New England Patriots' decision to sign restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders to a one year, $2.5 million offer sheet was a bit puzzling. On one hand, it could potentially handicap the Steelers' ability to match the deal as they could risk losing him after the 2013 and not get anything in return if he were to depart via free agency in 2014. On the flip side, the Patriots could potentially risk the same thing, losing Sanders to free agency after what would essentially be a one year rental.
Yesterday, I suggested that the Patriots and Steelers could work out a trade that would allow the Patriots to sign Sanders to a long term deal, similar to what the team did with receiver Wes Welker in 2007. However, Yahoo! Sports' Jason Cole has recently suggested that the Patriots could already have the framework of a new deal in place with Emmanuel Sanders if the Steelers don't match:
On face value, the Patriots would be giving up a third-round pick for a player for only one year. That's where others around the NFL begin to suspend belief.
"I don't believe for a second that Bill Belichick is giving up a third-round pick for Sanders for only one year," an executive with an AFC team said. "Yeah, if it was October and you were desperate for a specific guy because you thought he would make a difference, maybe. But Sanders isn't that type of guy. Nice potential, he has flashed some ability, but you don't do this."
The AFC executive and two other league sources raised the question of whether the Patriots have a deal in place with Sanders on a long-term contract. However, instead of signing Sanders to such a deal now that the Steelers might be interested in matching, New England signed him to a one-year deal that Pittsburgh would almost certainly not match.
This would be a smart move on the Patriots part, but as Cole suggests, it could anger some around the league:
If New England then signs Sanders to a long-term contract at some point in the near future, there would likely be all sorts of angry reaction around the league. However, there is no rule in the collective bargaining agreement against extending a restricted free agent in this situation.
Cole suggests that the only prohibitive language in the new CBA is in regards to the ability to reduce a player's base salary in the first year.