This breaking news comes as a major surprise to many people around the league. Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports is reporting that the New England Patriots are trying to pry a restricted free agent away from the Pittsburgh Steelers:
The Patriots just submitted an offer sheet on Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders. some actual restricted free agent movement. Wow— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) April 10, 2013
This is a bit of a shock. The Steelers placed the original-round tag on Sanders, meaning that the Patriots would have to give up their third round pick this year in order to sign Sanders, a third-round pick in the 2010 draft. Teams using tenders like that almost always keep their players under team control, as other teams are hesitant to give up any draft picks. As Pro Football Talk noted a few days ago, the market for restricted free agency has been virtually nonexistent over the past several years.
Another strange part of this story is that the Patriots are only offering Sanders a one-year contract. They would basically be exchanging their third round pick (91st overall) for one year of contractual control over Sanders. If they did not work out a long-term deal, he would become an unrestricted free agent after this season, a move which seems like an awfully big gamble.
For Packers fans, this may cause some concern regarding cornerback Sam Shields, who was given a second-round tender this off-season. However, in the Steelers' situation, they are very limited in terms of their salary cap space and the Patriots might just pull this off. The Packers on the other hand have enough cap space (partially due to Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews' contract extensions not being completed yet) to match an offer sheet given to Shields by another team.
I don't think this development will affect Shields or even Evan Dietrich-Smith, mainly because of that cap number. But it may be a sign that teams will be more willing to investigate restricted free agents moving forward.