Leicester have “broken the bank” in their bid to lure George Ford back to Welford Road from Bath, according to Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond.
Diamond says the Sharks have admitted defeat in their attempts to sign the England fly-half.
He remains under contract at Bath until summer 2018 but Diamond believes he is moving closer to a return to Welford Road at the end of the season.
“It’s never been a deal (for us),” Diamond told BBC Sport of 23-year-old Ford, who joined Bath from Leicester in 2013.
“We’ve not approached him as there is still some legal wrangling going on with Bath.
“It looks like Leicester have broken the bank for him, and a club their size has to do that, I think.”
George Ford has been unsettled at Bath ever since the sacking of his father and head coach, Mike, in May last year.
Sale have since appeared to push hard to recruit the 31-cap fly-half, who has starred for England under Eddie Jones.
Bath boss Todd Blackadder has battled hard to try to convince Ford to remain at the Recreation Ground, continually insisting the England star can become the best fly-half in the world.
Those overtures appear to have fallen on deaf ears, though, with Ford seemingly intent on leaving at the end of the campaign.
“We’re in the open market looking for five or six players,” Diamond added regarding Sale’s recruitment plans.
“We’re well down the line with them and if we don’t get the opportunity to speak to George Ford and he signs for Leicester, there is not much we can do about it. I think it is his desire to go there.”