The San Francisco 49ers made a significant move to bolster their receiving corps Tuesday.
The team traded for Broncos wideout Emmanuel Sanders, as first reported by 9News in Denver. The 49ers are sending 2020 third- and fourth-round picks to the Broncos, who are sending a 2020 fifth-round selection with Sanders to San Francisco, the team announced.
“Emmanuel is a passionate football player whose toughness and competitive nature have helped him become a dynamic playmaker in this league,” 49ers general manager John Lynch wrote in a statement. “He possesses a number of qualities, on and off the field, that we value in our players. His familiarity in a similar offensive system will allow for a quick transition. We are excited to add Emmanuel to our roster and look forward to seeing him positively impact our team.”
Sanders, 32, had three-straight 1,000-yard seasons with the Broncos from 2014 to 2016 and is a two-time Pro Bowler. The 10-year veteran is in the final season of a three-year, $33 million contract. His cap number for 2019 is just under $13 million, according to Overthecap.com.
Sanders this season has 30 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns, which is more than any 49ers receiver to date. Tight end George Kittle is San Francisco’s leading pass-catcher with 34 receptions for 376 yards.
“It’s hard, any time you break up or you leave a place, it’s tough,” Sanders told reporters in Denver as he left the Broncos facility Tuesday. “We definitely had a great run out here in Denver, a lot of great times. Obviously, all great things come to an end. Looking forward to getting out to San Fran and showcasing my talent, meeting the guys and hopefully add my explosiveness, my capabilities (for) their system and try to win.”
Sanders won a Super Bowl with Denver following the 2015 season played at Levi’s Stadium. Lynch, of course, has a very close relationship with Broncos executive John Elway. The 49ers had an up-close view of Sanders during joint training camp practices in August.
Sanders suffered a torn Achilles in December of 2018, but has rebounded to appear in all seven of Denver’s games. He’s caught 30 of 44 targets and hasn’t dropped a pass. Seventeen of his receptions have gone for first downs. Sanders is on pace for 839 yards this season while averaging over 52 yards per game.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan made his feelings clear about Sanders during a conference call with Broncos reporters before a game against Denver last December.
“Emmanuel, to me, has been one of the most underrated receivers in this league his entire career,” Shanahan said, according to The Athletic.
“I think he’s been a No. 1 receiver since he’s been in Denver. ... Emmanuel is the man. He’s always been the man. He is extremely quick, he knows how to separate, he can beat man coverage he’s also fearless. He’s aggressive with the ball, he doesn’t mind going there and blocking, he doesn’t mind going over the middle and he’s one of the tougher challenges in the league.”
It should be a smooth transition to Shanahan’s offense for Sanders. He played this season for first-year coordinator Rich Scangarello, who spent the past two years as the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach and runs a similar version of Shanahan’s scheme with the Broncos.
“Just talking to Rich,” Sanders said, “he’s pretty much telling me it’s the same offense, different concepts, but I’ll be able to pick it up easy. So, waiting for them to call me right now and we’ll see when I’m going to get out there and get my physical, get acclimated with the system.”
The trade is clearly a win-now move for San Francisco. The 49ers are the only undefeated team in the NFC and have a realistic chance at a deep playoff run. Receiver was arguably the roster’s weakest position with Trent Taylor (foot) and rookie Jalen Hurd (back) on injured reserve.
Rookie Deebo Samuel and Dante Pettis, who were both recent second-round draft picks, haven’t been productive. Pettis has just nine catches for 83 yards in six games. Samuel missed Sunday’s victory in Washington with a groin injury but was the team’s most effective wideout with 15 catches and 168 yards.
The 49ers have the NFL’s 25th-ranked passing offense averaging 215 yards per game while the rushing attack has been at the forefront opposite the team’s elite defense. Shanahan has dialed up runs at the highest rate in the league (57 percent), which is a product of San Francisco jumping out to big leads in combination with the inexperienced and banged-up receiving corps.
Sending third- and fourth-round picks to Denver, while getting a fifth back, is a steep price. It means the 49ers won’t have picks in Rounds 2 through 4 after sending their second-round choice to Kansas City in the Dee Ford trade. The Patriots early Tuesday morning acquired Mohamed Sanu, another realistic trade target for San Francisco, for a second-round pick. Sanu, 30, is younger than Sanders and is signed through 2020 with a reasonable $7.9 million cap hit next season.
There don’t appear to be many glaring holes on San Francisco’s roster this offseason. The 49ers seem set at all levels of the defense, though they might have to replenish the secondary and start thinking about life beyond Richard Sherman. However, Ahkello Witherspoon and second-year pro Emmanuel Moseley should have the team feeling good about the future at cornerback.
Safety could be where the 49ers use their first-round choice, particularly if Jimmie Ward leaves in free agency in the spring. Tarvarius Moore could slide into one of safety spots. Jaquiski Tartt is signed through next season. Additionally, the team will eventually have to think about a long-term replacement for left tackle Joe Staley, who signed an extension through 2021 in June.
San Francisco could recoup some of their lost draft picks if Sanders and other free agents leave in the spring. Defensive lineman Arik Armstead is having a career year ahead of his free agency. Ward is also unsigned beyond this season. That could mean three compensatory draft picks to the 49ers in 2021 if those three players sign elsewhere in March.
The NFL trade deadline is next Tuesday, Oct. 29.
This is a breaking news story and it will be updated.