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Emmanuel Sanders to New England? Patriots Have Traveled this Road Before

The Patriots have looked to restricted free agents before when they found themselves in need of a wide receiver. Is Emmanuel Sanders the next Wes Welker in New England? And will the Steelers have the same regrets Miami had?

Al Bello

Six years ago the Patriots approached then Miami Dolphin’s restricted free agent Wes Welker with a contract offer that reportedly contained a poison-pill that would have given the Dolphins almost no chance of matching it.

In the 2007 off-season, Wes Welker had been tagged with a second-round tender by the Dolphins, but after not being able to come to terms on a long-term deal, he was approached by the New England Patriots and talks advanced enough for a poison-pill – a provision in contracts meant to limit a player’s former team from being able to match the offer – to be included in any contract Welker might sign in New England.

The Patriots decided not to sign Welker to the poison-laden contract, and instead agreed to a trade with Miami that sent New England’s second and seventh round picks to the Dolphins in exchange for Wes Welker.

There was speculation at the time that the Patriots did not wish to engender the ire of other teams that the Vikings had recently received after giving Steve Hutchinson a poison-pill as a means of securing his services away from Seattle (a favor which Seattle returned in their poaching of Nate Burleson a couple weeks after). By trading for Welker, the Patriots were able to maintain the image they wanted as a front office of character, and not hurt their standing among other teams.

Even though the poison-pill provision was removed from the new CBA, it is unusual for teams to poach RFA’s in today’s NFL. The Patriots may consider the size of the contract as another version of the poison-pill, knowing the cash-strapped Steelers would be unable to match a deal with a high-cap hit in the first year.

However, the Patriots only have 5 draft picks this year - but they do have their original selection in rounds 1-3, along with their 7th and an extra 7th from Tampa Bay (acquired as part of the trade of Aqib Talib). If the Patriots were willing to go into the draft with less than five picks, they may be willing to consider a trade that could net the Steelers more than the tender they placed on Sanders guarantees them.

It seems that the Steelers have a few options if they want to get value back from a possible loss of Emmanuel Sanders. And for those of you who think it is unlikely he leaves, I counter with it is unlikely Bill Belichick even bothers to bring in a player he has no interest in trying to sign.

Steelers trade Emmanuel Sanders for New England's 3rd rounder (pick 29) & the 7th rounder from Tampa Bay (pick 20)

The Steelers would use the same method of surrender as the Dolphins used in 2007 by gaining one more pick than the tender they placed was worth. A seventh round pick is commonly a low-value pick, but an extra chance to draft the next David Paulsen would appeal to me. The Patriots might consider this as a means of showing good faith to one of the most respected teams in the league, and could use it to appease Roger Goodell as a sign that the Kraft’s are not looking to fracture relationships with the Rooney’s.

Steelers trade Emmanuel Sanders, plus Pittsburgh's 4th rounder (pick 18) & 6th rounder (pick 18) for NE’s 2nd rounder (pick 27)

This might be more of a fantasy trade scenario than a likely one, but it could suit the needs of both teams. As I noted above, the Patriots are entering the 2013 draft with an uncharacteristically low five selections. The Patriots tend to prefer stocking picks through trades, and might be willing to accept two picks, plus the value of their own third round pick in exchange for a pick at the end of the second round.

This trade would benefit the Steelers by giving them a shot at an impact player they are unlikely to find in the fourth and sixth rounds. The Steelers are losing the war with attrition for under-30 talent, and could use two second round picks to draft a pass rusher, safety, or wide receiver help they so desperately need. I don’t usually advocate giving up picks when you don’t have to, but for a chance at two of the second-round talents in this draft for a 4th & 6th might be something to consider.

Let Sanders sign with NE, receive NE’s 3rd round (pick 29) and $750k in cap space

The estimated $750k in savings is calculated after the Steelers receive a greater allotment for the new 3rd round pick as well as being returned the $1.3M designated for Sanders’ tender. The Steelers could then look to one of the remaining free agent WR’s available to fill Sanders’ role, or commit to an early draft pick and hope Cotchery and Burress can perform at a higher than expected level.

This may be the most likely scenario, but it is also my least favorite. The extra third round pick would be valuable, but at the end of the third round, the value won’t be as high as what Sanders was going to give the Steelers next year. This saves future cap space, because the Steelers were going to have to find room for Manny long-term if they wanted to keep him, and already are going to be stretching the cap thin again next season. But I am not sure there are a lot of suitable FA options out there, particularly considering the limited amount of cap space losing Sanders opens for this season.


If Sanders leaves and all the Steelers receive is a pick in the last four of the third round, they may be wondering if they should have spent the extra $700k to secure a second-round pick as compensation.