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Steelers match offer to Sanders

| Sunday, April 14, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders beats the Panthers' Reggie Smith and Josh Thomas (22) for a touchdown Aug. 30, 2012.

Ben Roethlisberger might be happier about this than anyone in Pittsburgh — Emmanuel Sanders isn't going anywhere.

The Steelers on Sunday matched the Patriots' $2.5 million offer to Sanders, a restricted free-agent wide receiver who is expected to replace Mike Wallace as a starter next season.

Roethlisberger is believed to have badly wanted to keep Sanders, especially with Wallace heading to the Dolphins after signing a $60 million deal and tight end Heath Miller healing from an ACL tear.

The Steelers initially tendered Sanders a $1.323 million original-round offer that would have gained them a third-round draft pick if Sanders left. They chose not to make an $2.023 million offer that would have forced the Patriots — or any other team — to hand over a second-round pick, an unlikely scenario.

Sanders could leave as an unrestricted free agent after next season unless he signs a contract extension. Agent Jordan Woy said he is the first restricted free agent to receive an offer in three years.

“Glad the business side is out of the way,” Sanders posted on Twitter. “Now it's back to playing football and bringing (Super Bowl trophy) No. 7 back to Pittsburgh.”

Losing Sanders would have given the Steelers more salary cap room and the 91st pick overall in a draft in which there is wide receiver depth. But it would have left them with a woefully thin receiving corps — Antonio Brown, Plaxico Burress, Jerricho Cotchery, David Gilreath — at a time when the passing game has never been more important to winning in the NFL.

By paying Sanders nearly twice what they anticipated, the Steelers are only about $700,000 below the cap. They will clear $5.5 million of space from Willie Colon's release June 1, but all or most of that will go to signing their rookies.

Sanders, mostly a slot receiver last season, has 1,290 yards receiving and five touchdowns in three seasons. He had a career-high 44 catches in 2012.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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