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Steelers receiver Sanders visiting Patriots

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 1:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders scores the a touchdown during the second quarter against the Giants on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders, running upfield during a 2012 game, visited the Patriots on Friday.

Day 4 of the NFL free agency saw another notable Steelers receiver possibly on his way out.

Restricted free-agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders visited New England, and a trio of unrestricted free agents — Dallas linebacker Victor Butler, Chicago tight end Kellen Davis and Arizona running back Beanie Wells — left the Steelers' facility Friday without deals.

Only one restricted free agent — running back Mike Bell from New Orleans to Philadelphia in 2010 — has moved from one team to another over the past four years. The price tag of a long-term offer along with handing over a draft choice to sign a restricted free agent has been more than teams have been willing to pay.

Unlike with unrestricted free agent receiver Mike Wallace, who signed a five-year, $60 million deal with Miami earlier in the week, the Steelers have total control over whether Sanders will be back for the upcoming season.

The Steelers placed a $1.323 million original-round tender on Sanders last week instead of a second-round tender that would've cost them $700,000 more. However, the higher tag likely would have guaranteed that no team would be interested in the young receiver.

If the Patriots sign Sanders to an offer sheet and the Steelers don't choose to match it within the allotted five days, the Steelers would receive New England's third-round pick (91st overall) in April's draft as compensation.

It's unknown if New England would be willing to give up a draft pick for Sanders because it has only five selections this year. But the Patriots have enough room under the salary cap to present a contract to Sanders that the salary cap-tight Steelers couldn't match.

The Steelers are about $3 million under the $123 million salary cap. They will pick up another $5.5 million in cap space June 1 because of the release of guard Willie Colon (who signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal with the Jets on Friday) that will be designated for their draft picks.

The loss of Sanders would be significant since he is expected to be the Steelers No. 2 receiver behind Antonio Brown. Sanders started only eight games in his three-year career and has 94 catches and five touchdowns. He turns 26 on Sunday.

The Steelers have veteran receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress on the roster but not much in terms of experience after that.

The Steelers haven't done much in free agency other than re-signing their own: Ramon Foster, Larry Foote and Burress. They also added defensive back William Gay and backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.

The Steelers are looking into options to bolster their roster through free agency. Their needs at outside linebacker and running back sparked visits from Wells and Butler. Heath Miller's unknown status after ACL surgery has the Steelers interested in Davis.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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