Watch Tower: Emmanuel Sanders (not) to the Patriots: Anatomy of a Non-Story

Just one week ago the word was not only that Emmanuel Sanders had signed an offer sheet from the New England Patriots, but Steelers management was ready to let him become the first restricted free agent since Kris Brown to leave the team.

  • When the dust settled Emmanuel Sanders was not only not headed to New England, the Patriots hadn’t even tendered him an offer….

…The Watch Tower digs deeper into one of Steelers Nation’s biggest non-stories of free agent era.

Word Breaks the Sanders Signs and Offer Sheet

The interesting thing here is that it is impossible to chalk up the non-story of Sanders non-signing to the flaws inherent to social media.

Behind the Steel Curtain’s Neal Coolong first posted the news of Sanders signing an offer sheet at 6:20 pm on Friday the 15th.

A tweet by Antonio Brown appeared to confirm the report on Behind the Steel Curtain:

Guess AB the last guy standing ! #SteelersNation
— Antonio Brown(@AntonioBrown84) March 15, 2013

The Boston media then got into the act when Mike Gambardella of Big 3 Boston Sports appeared to confirm the signing on their end:

Getting word that Emmanuel Sanders has signed an offer sheet with the #Patriots. #Steelers will have a chance to match. No $/years yet.
— Mike Gambardella (@BIG3Sports) March 15, 2013

As the story evolved, Behind the Steel Curtain informed that sources from Pittsburgh had confirmed the offer to Sander which was said to only be pending a physical. Furthermore, BTSC reported, the Steelers were ready to let Sanders walk (Full Disclosure: I also write for Behind the Steel Curtain but have neither access nor knowledge of the sources in question.)

  • Sanders, it appeared was a goner.

Mark Kabloy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wasn’t ready to jump the gun, however, tweeting that the Patriots had not informed the Steelers of any offer:

#Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders very well could’ve signed RFA offer with Pats, but if he did, the Steelers haven’t been informed yet.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) March 15, 2013

Behind the Steel Curtain countered with a link to the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement that stipulates that it is the restricted free agent’s responsibility to inform his current team of an offer.

Throughout the afternoon and evening of the 15th the Pittsburgh Post Gazette remained silent on Sanders, until Gerry Dulac posted an article in the wee hours of the 16th, where he reported:

Three days after top receiver Mike Wallace signed a $60 million contract with the Miami Dolphins, No. 3 receiver Emmanuel Sanders has signed an offer sheet with the New England Patriots that will force the Steelers to match the offer or let him go, too.

The news sent Steelers Nation into a frenzy, as fans alternatively panicked over Sanders loss or celebrated at the prospect of an additional third round pick.

Sanders Stays Put in Pittsburgh

At 6:20 pm on Saturday the 16th, 24 hours after Antonio Brown’s tweet, Dale Lolley of the Irwin Observer-Reporter weighed in, indicating that Sanders had not been offered a contract by the Patriots, and sharing his opinion that the Steelers might be wise to let him go.

  • Earlier in the day Sanders himself had in fact taken to Facebook to inform fans that he’d gotten no offer.

By the morning of Sunday the 17th, the Post Gazette had changed their tune too, citing a source no less authoritative than Kevin Colbert himself to say that Sanders had not been signed by the Patriots.

What was interesting about the Post Gazette story was they seemed to imply that the news of Sanders bolting had been a product of the national media while completely ignoring their own story that confirmed the signing:

Colbert also said the Steelers have not received any official notification that wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders has signed an offer sheet with the New England Patriots, despite national reports. [Emphasis added]

The operative words there are “despite national reports” which incidentally are used in the URL. (While ESPN is hardly the only national outlet, they never reported that the Patriots had made an offer – quite to the contrary.)

While the Watch Tower’s analysis of the Post Gazette’s coverage of the Steelers has been generally positive, the incident was reminiscent of 2008, when the Post Gazette reported that the Steelers signed Anthony McFarland when in fact, no such signing took place.

So What Exactly Is It That Happened, or Didn’t Happen?

The untold portion of this story is of course why did the news of the non-story gain such currency.

  • Where the reports simply wrong, based on bad information?
  • Had the Patriots told Sanders made a verbal offer to Sanders only to get cold feet?
  • Did Sanders fail his physical?

None of these questions are have been addressed, and it appears that Steelers Nation will never know at this point.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers, click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

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