The waiting game is officially on as to whether the Patriots will sink their teeth into an unremarkable but talented wide receiver group in this year's draft, but their patented double-dipping could be all but a pipe dream.
ESPN's Adam Schefter first broke the update on the Patriots' pursuance of Pittsburgh Steelers' WR Emmanuel Sanders:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>New England has signed Steelers restricted FA WR Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet.</p>— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) <a href="https://twitter.com/AdamSchefter/status/321993058805743618">April 10, 2013</a></blockquote>
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It's reportedly a one-year deal, which speaks less to the Patriots' view on Sanders and more on their ability to make the offer difficult to match for the Steelers. Pittsburgh has five days to review and match the signed offer sheet if they so desire, or Sanders officially becomes a Patriot (and the Patriots' third-round draft selection officially becomes the property of the Steelers).
The Patriots know of the Steelers somewhat dire cap situation well (an estimated $2 million under), so a one-year deal would give the Patriots the ability to frontload the contract and work out an extension further down the road once Sanders is officially under team control. The Steelers are in a bit of a bind when it comes to their receiving corps in having lost Mike Wallace to the Miami Dolphins, so finding a way to retain Sanders would come as no shock to either side. Whether they are able to successfully is another story.
As for the Patriots, I don't believe kicking the tires on Sanders completely takes them out of the wide receiver sweepstakes during the draft. With Wes Welker's departure and an overwhelming silence on the status of Brandon Lloyd, there are plenty of holes to be filled even after a possible rostering of Sanders. Sanders offers a versatile skillset and boasts some enticing measurables on a 26-year-old frame, so it's likely the Patriots simply valued Sanders more than what their third round selection would net them. Fully knowing the Patriots' seemingly endless struggles in drafting their own wideouts, the price really can't be too high for a player who has already proven he can consistently produce at the professional level.
If anything, Sanders is a high-ceiling insurance policy that allows the Patriots to take a flyer on a rookie receiver while not having to rely on any instant production. It's an undoubtedly conservative route, but it's one the Patriots are intent on taking after logging far too many misses at a single position.