When the Steelers placed a mid-level tender on restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, they did so knowing that there was an outside chance he could still sign elsewhere.
That possibility arose Friday when Sanders reportedly visited the New England Patriots, according to ESPN.com.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, brought back another of its former draft picks, signing tight end Matt Spaeth to a one-year deal according to ESPN.
The Steelers tendered Sanders an offer of $1.323 million prior to the start of free agency, guaranteeing them the right to match any offer he might receive. The Steelers would have five days to match the offer or receive a third-round draft pick – equal to the round in which they selected Sanders – in return.
Sanders left New England Friday without an offer, and of the 40 restricted free agents who were available in 2012, none changed teams.
That’s good news for the Steelers. Sanders will likely be counted on to ease the loss of free agent Mike Wallace to the Miami Dolphins.
After struggling with injuries in his first two seasons, Sanders had his best year statistically in 2012, playing in all 16 games and catching 44 passes for 626 yards and one touchdown.
In 40 career games, he has 94 receptions for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns.
Sanders was part of a draft class in 2010 in which the Steelers brought in two wide receivers. Sanders was selected in the third round, while Antonio Brown was taken in the sixth.
Spaeth was a third-round pick of the Steelers in 2007. He spent four seasons with the Steelers before leaving as a free agent for the Chicago Bears.
The 6-7, 260-pound Spaeth is considered more of a blocking tight end and had just six receptions for 28 yards and a touchdown in 2012.
Prior to signing Spaeth, the Steelers hosted three unrestricted free agents Friday, meeting with former Arizona running back Beanie Wells, Chicago tight end Kellen Davis and Dallas linebacker Victor Butler. All three left without signing with the team.
The Steelers did lose two former players Friday, as safety Ryan Mundy, an unrestricted free agent, and guard Willie Colon, released earlier this week, both signed with New York teams.
Mundy, a spot starter, signed with the New York Giants, while Colon, who started 11 games at left guard in 2012 before being injured, signed a one-year deal with the Jets worth $1.2 million.
The Baltimore Sun is also reporting that linebacker James Harrison, released by the Steelers last Saturday in a salary cap-related move, has been in negotiations with the Ravens, though no deal has yet been reached.