Pittsburgh Steelers match offer sheet, retain receiver Emmanuel Sanders


With the New England Patriots just hours from snatching wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the Pittsburgh Steelers decided they couldn’t let that happen.

As relayed to multiple media sources via Sanders’ agent Jordan Woy, the Steelers matched the Patriots’ offer to Sanders at about 6 p.m. Sunday evening, thus retaining the restricted free agent for the 2013 season. Sanders signed a one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet with New England earlier this week, forcing Pittsburgh to match by midnight Monday or lose the 26-year-old fourth-year pro.

Dec 30, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (88) runs the ball against Cleveland Browns defensive back Trevin Wade (26) during the second half of the game at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers had initially tendered Sanders under the NFL’s free agency rules, which meant he would’ve been under contract for $1.323 million this fall if another team didn’t present an offer. The Patriots did, giving the Steelers a choice to pay $2.5 million for Sanders or receive a 2013 third-round draft pick as compensation.

With Mike Wallace already gone to Miami via free agency, losing Sanders would’ve severely depleted the Steelers’ receiving corps, even with potential draft selections taken into consideration. Sanders made a career-high 44 receptions for 626 yards last season; the 2010 third-round draft selection out of SMU has 94 catches for 1,290 yards in his pro career.

Sanders joins returning wide receivers Antonio Brown, Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery and David Gilreath on the Steelers’ projected 2013 depth chart. Pittsburgh has little if any room remaining under the salary cap with the draft approaching, so general manager Kevin Colbert will have to do some maneuvering to ensure the roster will be compliant with NFL regulations once the season gets underway.