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Absent a long-term deal, Steelers will regret matching Sanders offer


In the end, the 50 that wanted to keep receiver Emmanuel Sanders outweighed the 50 that didn’t.

The 50 that lost likely will be saying “I told you so” in less than a year.

With a one-year, $2.5 million deal, Sanders is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March 2014. And with the Steelers unlikely to use the franchise tag (after all, they didn’t use it to keep Mike Wallace around), Sanders will head to market barring a long-term deal.

If Sanders makes it to the open market, the Patriots likely will be given the first crack at signing him, thanks to the fact that the Pats helped him get a $1.2 million raise for 2013. The Steelers, in turn, will have nothing if Sanders leaves.

Sure, his departure will factor in to the complex formula for determining compensatory draft picks in 2015. But the Steelers could have had the 91st overall pick in the draft now, signing the player to a four-year deal that would have cost roughly the same as one more year with Sanders.

The benefit for the Steelers is that the matching of the offer puts Sanders under contract for 2013, which means he won’t be able to avoid mandatory minicamp or training camp without incurring potential fines. Last year, Wallace didn’t sign his tender and thus wasn’t under contract, which translated to a holdout that lasted deep into August.

In theory, the Steelers now have the exclusive ability through next March to try to sign him to a long-term deal. And that’s the real question we have moving forward. In deciding to match the offer, did the Steelers also decide to take all reasonable steps to keep Sanders over the long haul? If so -- and if they get him signed -- then the decision to match won’t be as bad as if the Steelers view it as a one-more-year move.

The Patriots will now be left to wonder whether they should have put some more money into the offer, and precisely how much more would have scared the Steelers away. More importantly, the Pats now need to look elsewhere for help at receiver.