Loading Up: Why the Emmanuel Sanders Trade Makes Sense for the 49ers
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Yesterday’s trade for Emmanuel Sanders gives the San Francisco 49ers a clear number-one wide receiver for the first time since Anquan Boldin was catching passes from Colin Kaepernick. Sanders is clearly the best WR on the 49ers roster, just as he was on the Denver Broncos for the past three of four years. Sanders is used to the pressure of being the main target, and in San Francisco, he won’t be asked to do that.
George Kittle is the clear number-one target in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Going into this weekend’s game against the Carolina Panthers, Kittle and Sanders have near identical numbers. Kittle has 34 catches, for 376 yards, and a touchdown on 41 targets in six games while Sanders has 30 catches for 367 yards and 2 touchdowns on 45 targets in seven games. Sanders shouldn’t expect to see that many targets a game, and especially not this week.
Word on the street though is that the Broncos wanted to hold onto Sanders for one more week, but the 49ers said they wanted him this week for their game against the Panthers. Sanders has spent this season playing under offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello who just happened to be the 49ers quarterbacks coach last season. Although the Broncos don’t seem to be running the exact same offense as the 49ers, one would have to assume that there are similarities and some of the verbiage is similar, aiding in Sanders’ transition from one team to the next in the middle of a season.
Shanahan hasn’t been shy of heaping praise on Sanders before there was even a notion that he may be traded to the team, calling him one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL. Although he is not as explosive as he once was as a member of the Steelers’ once-vaunted “Young Money Crew” WR core (Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Sanders), at 32 Sanders still has the athleticism and skill level to stretch a defense and the football knowledge to get open in small spaces.
Sanders has had his best numbers in his career when partnered with a talented second receiver, whether it was with that young talented group in Pittsburgh or with Demaryius Thomas in Denver. The 49ers must be hoping that Sanders will be a good mentor to young WRs Deebo Samuel and Dante Pettis and that hopefully the three of them can complement each other, stretching the defense in every possible direction.
The Niners appeared to give up a lot of draft capital (next year’s third- and fourth-round picks) for a 32-year-old WR coming off of an injury who is only signed through the end of the year, and most likely is looking for one final big payoff in his career. But when looking at all of the variables, it’s actually a pretty safe trade.
Let’s say it doesn’t work out with Sanders; he doesn’t elevate the team’s offense and he is gone after ten regular season games and a short playoff run. The 49ers should recoup a third-round compensation pick when they lose him in free agency, and if they continue to win like they are, that pick will be only six to eight slots later than their own third round pick would have been. Then they got Denver’s fifth rounder back in the trade, which will be only probably ten to twelve picks later than their fourth round pick with Denver tanking and the 49ers winning.
So if Sanders doesn’t amount to the WR1 he is, then the worst case scenario was moving back in the draft a combined fourteen to twenty spots in the third and fourth/fifth rounds. If Sanders performs like the WR1 he is, playing hard and well in a contract season, then the 49ers gave up a third round-pick and eight to twelve spots at the end of the fourth round for a Super Bowl run, something everyone who is a fan of the team will be okay with. Should Sanders perform that way, look for the Niners to ink a two-three year extension with him before free agency.
Between the offseason pickups of Kwon Alexander and Tevin Coleman and trades for Dee Ford and Emmanuel Sanders it appears that general manager John Lynch is really getting a handle on this idea of team building, mixing great draft picks (Samuel, Kittle, Witherspoon, Nick Bosa, and Mike McGlinchey) with proven commodities like Richard Sherman and the above mention list of acquisitions to create a balanced core group of players. Lynch and Shanahan have proven to be willing to cut loose players they were wrong on, and take chances on acquiring players at mid-season, now acquiring their franchise quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo) and their WR1 in mid-season trades.
The 49ers are showing that they are ready to compete for Super Bowls now, and appear to be planning to keep that window open for several seasons to come.
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