Not long after free agency launched, the Patriots brought in receiver Emmanuel Sanders for a visit. When an offer sheet wasn’t quickly signed, many assumed that it wouldn’t be.
But there’s no hurry, yet. As Field Yates of ESPNBoston.com explains it, the Pats (and every other team) have until April 19 to sign any restricted free agent to an offer sheet. The player’s current team then would have five days (down from seven under past labor deals) to match.
In Sanders’ case, the Patriots would have to give up a third-round pick if the Steelers won’t or can’t match. Yates surmises that the Patriots may be waiting for the Steelers to make another move or two, which could make it harder to match a frontloaded offer. Delay, however, gives the Steelers more time to get their salary-cap ducks in a row, plotting moves that would be made if they suddenly have 120 hours to clear enough cap space to keep Sanders.
Few teams sign restricted free agents to offer sheets. Some think it makes no sense to negotiate a contract that the player’s current team will simply match. Others believe teams don’t want to part with draft picks. Some (OK, me and possibly no one else) suspect that teams are subtly colluding when it comes to restricted free agents.
Regardless, more than three weeks remain before this year’s RFA market officially closes. Even if it never actually opens.