After a crushing Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the San Francisco 49ers now turn their attention to the off-season. One order of business that should be high on the checklist is figuring out what to do with Emmanuel Sanders. The 49ers traded for Sanders last season along with a fifth-round pick in exchange for a third and fourth-round pick.
In ten games with his new team, Sanders caught 36 passes for 502 yards and hauled in three touchdown receptions. The ten-year veteran has an expiring contract, and the 49ers are a little pressed on cap space. Per overthecap.com, the team is projected to have just $12 million in cap room going into next year. The decision to spend some of that on Sanders or not will be a big decision.
Bring Him Back
It’s no secret the 49ers found success offensively primarily through the run game, especially late in the season and throughout the playoffs. Their committee of tailbacks is a unique one that meshes perfectly with Kyle Shannahan’s zone-run scheme. However, we found out in the Super Bowl that good defensive teams can limit the damage. The Chiefs held the 49ers to 141 yards on the ground, which is still a solid number but the lowest of San Francisco’s playoff run. Once KC’s comeback gave them the lead, San Francisco had to rely on Jimmy Garoppolo and the passing game to try and come back themselves. Garoppolo and the offense, obviously, was unable to do so.
Letting Sanders come off the books and sign elsewhere wouldn’t destroy the 49ers offense, but it would certainly take a hit. The team does have other talented wideouts, such as Deebo Samuel who broke Jerry Rice’s rookie receiving record for the franchise. Kendrick Bourne had his moments but was inconsistent at times, and the same can be said for Marquise Goodwin. Of course, tight end George Kittle is a big component of the passing game. Kittle finished second amongst tight ends in receiving yards per game with a mark of 75.2.
Based on previous contract earnings, my guess is that Sanders will be looking at anywhere between $5 and $8 million per year. It wouldn’t put the team over the cap, but it would bring them close to the limit. With over half a season in this 49ers offense already under his belt, bringing Emmanuel back could really help Garoppolo and the passing game out.
Let Him Walk
As mentioned, the 49ers do have other receiving threats on the team. Those guys will need to be paid soon though too. Samuel still has some years left on his rookie deal, but Kittle’s is up after 2021. Looking at what Zach Ertz gets from the Eagles, which is about $8.5 million per season, it’s safe to assume Kittle will be in that same ballpark. Richard Sherman, Kyle Juszczyk, and Tevin Coleman’s deals all come to a close at the same time as Kittle. Point is, there’s a lot of guys that need to be paid soon that play a more important role with the team.
Additionally, valuable wide receivers can be found in later stages of the draft. The problem, though, is that after their first-round pick, San Francisco doesn’t pick again until the fifth round. As we know, Antonio Brown went in the sixth round of his draft, but those types of guys tend to be anomalies. The 2020 receiver class seems like it will be a deep one though, so the potential of finding a guy who can turn into a threat with this offense is there. If the 49ers’ front office believes they can replace Sanders with a cheaper option, it might be in their best interest to do so.
My take is that the 49ers should bring him back. I’m not confident that the team will find a receiver that can contribute in the fifth round or later. Plus, Sanders seems to be a great fit inside of San Francisco’s locker room.
It may leave them tight for cash, but it will be worth it if they can get the usual production from Sanders for an entire season. Being able to mentor some of the younger receivers on the team serves as a plus as well. The more weapons you can put around Garoppolo, the better.
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