How 49ers proceed knowing that Emmanuel Sanders won't be coming back


It did not take veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders long to show the 49ers what they had been lacking when he arrived in a midseason trade from the Denver Broncos.

After Sanders got to Santa Clara, he immediately took nearly every snap. Sanders and rookie Deebo Samuel earned most of the playing time. Kendrick Bourne was the third receiver.

And that was it.

The 49ers relied on only three wide receivers for the games that mattered the most.

When the 49ers acquired Sanders, they were prepared for him to be a half-season rental.

Sanders on Friday told ESPN’s Josina Anderson he intends to sign with the New Orleans Saints. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the deal was for two years, $16 million.

The 49ers wanted to re-sign Sanders as an unrestricted free agent, but not as much as the Saints. The 49ers were never going to give big money for a veteran wide receiver -- not in a year that has such an impressive draft class.

“The draft class is incredibly strong,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“You can kind of get whatever flavor you like. If you like smaller, quicker guys, those guys are there. If you like the big guys that can move, those guys are there. If you like speed, that's there. If you like separators … So, I think the whole league's kind of smiling about that.”

If the 49ers were going to spend big money on a veteran wide receiver, it would have been Sanders. The organization spent half the season getting to know him. He fit in well. Coach Kyle Shanahan said he did not believe the 49ers would have gotten as far as they did without him.

But just as the 49ers made an incredibly difficult decision to trade away defensive tackle DeForest Buckner on Monday, the club decided it could not invest a lot of cap space in Sanders.

The 49ers could still add a bargain receiver, but it would be nobody with the resume that Sanders brought to the team.

Instead, the 49ers will turn to Samuel and Bourne, whom the club presented with a second-round tender to retain as a restricted free agent.

They could get nearly any receiver they want in the draft with the No. 13 overall pick. Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs of Alabama, and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb are definitely in play.

The 49ers will draft a wide receiver. We can guarantee that. The 49ers have selected a wide receiver in 17 consecutive drafts.


This is not the year to ignore the position when the 49ers have a lot of unknowns and the draft class is stacked with talented players.

But that is a large part of why the 49ers did not put up much of a fight for Sanders. Would it have made a lot of sense to pay him what it would have taken to get him and invest a top draft choice on a wide receiver?

The 49ers also are putting the onus on the young receivers already under contract to step it up.

Samuel is hungry. There's no need to worry about him. Bourne has gotten better and better.

But Dante Pettis was a second-round pick in 2018 who finished his rookie season strong then disappeared. Even during this troubling time around the planet, Pettis has to do all he can do to get stronger and make sure -- as best he can -- that he is ready to go when teams are allowed to get their offseason programs going.

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Richie James was steady as a returner and can still bring a lot more to the table as a receiver.

The 49ers will add two receivers when they next convene who were initially thought of being big-time contributors to the offense for the 2019 season.

Trent Taylor underwent surgery to repair a Jones fracture in August. But complication after complication prevented him from ever stepping on the field. He hopes to be ready for training camp.

The same happened with rookie Jalen Hurd, who experienced a stress fracture in his back and never got close to practicing or playing. The 49ers are encouraged by the progress he has made.

Taylor would give the 49ers the slot receiver they lacked and a reliable third-down target. Hurd would be ideal for Shanahan in no-huddle situations because of his ability to line up at any number of different positions and exploit mismatches.

Sanders gave the 49ers everything they envisioned when they acquired him last year.

Now, they need the pieces to fall into place with the returning players and a yet-to-be-determined draft selection.

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