The Patriots thought they had the Pittsburgh Steelers right where they wanted them, but in the end it wasn’t enough to steal receiver Emmanuel Sanders away and bring him to New England.

On Sunday Pittsburgh matched the Patriots $2.5 million offer sheet to Sanders, keeping him away from their Conference rival and forcing the Patriots to head back to the drawing board as they continue rebuilding what for now is still an uncertain position on their roster.

It’s already been a tough offseason for the Patriots, who lost free agent Wes Welker to the Broncos while also making the decision to part ways with Brandon Lloyd. The two accounted for nearly half of Tom Brady’s passing yards last season, sending New England into a rebuilding mode as they try to put together a more dynamic group that can be a little more effective outside the numbers.

Getting the ball down the field was definitely an issue in 2012. Last season the Patriots completion percentages ranked them 23rd in the league on throws to the deep left part of the field (31.25% completion rate), 27th on deep attempts to the middle (42.42% completion rate), and 28th on deep attempts to the right (26.32% completion rate).

They definitely took their shots, throwing 48 times down the field to the left (4th most in the NFL), 33 down the middle (6th most) and 38 down the field to the right (19th in the league).


Brandon Lloyd never ended up being the type of threat the Patriots were looking for. (FILE:USPresswire)

Looking at the numbers in our stats database, the Patriots clearly tried to make Brandon Lloyd their deep outside threat and it just didn’t work out. He was targeted a staggering 22 times with just 3 catches on deep attempts to the left (13% completion rate), along with 14 targets with just 5 catches on deep attempts to the right (35%).

Obviously the Patriots weren’t happy with his production and as a result they’ve opted to move in another direction.

So far they’ve added free agents Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones, but the group overall is still in need of an impact player. Sanders would have provided that and despite the price of a 3rd round pick would have potentially eliminated the uncertainty that comes with drafting someone, which is something that has plagued New England each time they’ve tried to select and develop a receiver in recent years.

As it stands right now they have Jenkins, Jones, Amendola, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, Jeremy Ebert, Kamar Aiken and Andre Holmes rounding out their depth chart. It’s an extremely thin group at this point, with Amendola as the only real established veteran who has shown the ability to be a playmaker. However he’s had some injury issues and the Patriots will be looking for him to try and put together a complete season for them.

New England brought back Edelman recently and he gives them some depth, but it’s tough to expect much from him given his past production. They tried to get him more involved in the offense last year but he was inconsistent, although he’s been a weapon for them on punt returns. Unfortunately he too has had his share of injury issues and joins Amendola in that department.

With Sanders off the table the Patriots are left having to reevaluate their options as they continue trying to rearm Brady with some firepower. One more big playmaker is definitely something they need, so the big question we’re left with now is waiting to see exactly where they’ll ultimately find him.

New England could still address the position in the draft or potentially add depth when teams make additional roster cuts in the coming months, but by trying to make a move to acquire Sanders it’s clear they know they have an issue. How they solve it will continue to be one of the big question marks this offseason and hopefully they’ll find an answer sooner rather than later.