A few people have asked about what rules the New England Patriots must follow in regard to giving restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders an extension should the Pittsburgh Steelers not match the one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet that he signed.
Here is what the CBA says about it restricted free agents and offer sheets:
The player and the New Club may not renegotiate such Player Contract to reduce the Salary in such contract until after the end of the first regular season covered by the Contract. Neither the player nor the New Club may exercise an option in such Player Contract that reduces Salary in the first League Year of such contract until after the end of the first regular season covered by the Contract.
That is pretty straight forward, and in the case of Sanders, it is a straight one-year deal with a $2.5 million salary and does not include any options, LTBE or NLTBE incentives.
So basically, should the Steelers not match the offer sheet, the Patriots can easily extend Sanders with new money in the form of a signing bonus, which wouldn\'t mess with his 2013 salary. While Sanders\' 2013 cap number would increase with a signing bonus in the new deal, the Patriots have plenty of cap room next year to afford it.
As far as the Steelers go, should they match Sanders\' offer sheet, they can extend him as well and here is what the CBA says in regard to that:
If the Prior Club gives the Restricted Free Agent a “First Refusal Exercise Notice” substantially in the form of Appendix C, attached hereto, within five days from the date the Prior Club receives an Offer Sheet, but not later than one day before the Draft (unless the parties agree otherwise), such Restricted Free Agent and the Prior Club shall be deemed to have entered into a binding agreement, which they shall promptly formalize in a Player Contract, containing (i) all the Principal Terms (subject to Subsection (e) below); (ii) those terms of the NFL Player Contract not modified by the Principal Terms; and (iii) such additional terms, not less favorable to the player than those contained in the Offer Sheet as may be agreed upon between the Restricted Free Agent and the Prior Club.
In 2001, for example, the Patriots signed running back Chris Fuamatu-Maʻafala to a one-year, $700,000 offer sheet that included a $450,000 base salary and a $250,000 signing bonus. One week after the Steelers matched that offer sheet, they extended the contract of Fuamatu-Maʻafala two more years and gave him an additional $500,000 signing bonus.
So, if I am correctly understanding the language of the CBA, the Steelers, should they decide to match the Sanders\' offer sheet, certainly have the right to work out an extension with Sanders, but can\'t lower the $2.5 million base salary that he would be scheduled to earn in 2013, as it is a principle term.
So, let\'s say that the Steelers want to extend Sanders contract three more years after matching the offer sheet and give him a $6 million signing bonus. That would add another $1.5 million of signing bonus proration to his $2.5 million base salary and make his 2013 cap hit $4 million. See the problem here as it relates to cap space needed?
The Steelers will get more cap room come June 2nd when the Willie Colon release becomes official, but roughly $1.5 million of that additional cap space will need to be dedicated to getting all of the draft picks signed. They also will need at least a few million for in-season security and might want to add another free agent or two in addition. I laid out other ways that the Steelers could clear more cap room in a post a few days ago, but would be surprised if they went that route to accommodate a Sanders extension.
The more I dissect everything, the more it looks like Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert only has the option of keeping Sanders one more season by matching the Patriots offer sheet, which would result in him being an unrestricted free agent next offseason. I can also now clearly see the Patriots reasoning behind only giving Sanders a one-year, $2.5 million offer sheet.
On the Thursday podcast, I said that I thought the Steelers would match the offer sheet, but am now changing by opinion. When you combine the notion that an extension looks highly improbable, with the idea that Sanders could be disgruntled because he has money waiting on the table for him in New England, I think that Colbert will more than likely not match the offer sheet and take the Patriots third round draft pick as compensation.