As the Patriots are hemming and hawing over whether to make an offer to Steelers restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, they're likely crunching numbers, making future projections, consulting with their cap gurus and getting Tom Brady's buy-in.
Through that effort, they come up with a figure of $2.5 million on a 1-year deal for the Steelers' fourth-year receiver.
Seems like a good deal on paper, considering the Patriots have some cap space, but they don't have many receivers. The big question marks are whether tight end Rob Gronkowski will be ready to start the season after having multiple surgeries on his forearm and whether free agent WR Danny Amendola can at least come within shouting distance of the massive production of departed WR Wes Welker.
The Patriots gambled somewhat in letting Welker sign with Denver, signing the younger and less expensive but less prolific Amendola to pick up the slack.
They must figure they like what they have at that point, enough to say, "hey, we don't want to spend TOO much on Sanders. Let's not go crazy here."
They make the offer, knowing it's right on the fringe of where the Steelers could be realistically expected to match the offer. It would essentially tack on $1.2 million to the $1.3 million tender (with a third round pick as compensation if they refuse to match) the Steelers gave him.
The Patriots decide not to go crazy, and offer a contract the Steelers couldn't match. So the Steelers matched it, Sanders got nearly a 100 percent raise and the Patriots moved on with their offseason, depleted receiver depth and all.
In wake of the arrest of tight end Aaron Hernandez, and another surgery for Gronkowski (this time on his back), do you wonder if the Patriots wouldn't have just tacked on a million bucks to Sanders' offer? Maybe $1.5 million, or even more?
It seems fair to suggest, all things considered, Sanders is being paid roughly his market value, minus the price of a third round pick. Would the Patriots have gone above that if they knew Hernandez would be arrested and released on June 26, not long after the prognosis on Gronkowski began including the letters "PUP" and the phrase "to start the preseason?"
It seems like they wouldn't have had much of a choice, which is what many thought was the dominant reason behind why the Steelers matched the offer in the first place.
Obviously, the Patriots weren't making decisions on the possibility their tight end is arrested and potentially charged with murder. It's a good example of living by the salary cap sword, and running the risk of dying by it as well. Could the Patriots have been better off with Hernandez's targets picked up by Sanders? We won't know now, but amid all the chaos around One Patriots Way today, it's a fair question to ask; "Should they have offered Sanders a few more bucks to ensure the Steelers couldn't match?"