It took a while, but Kyle Shanahan finally got receiver Emmanuel Sanders on his team.
The 49ers coach explained to reporters on Wednesday that he had been eyeing the team’s latest addition for the better part of a decade.
“Emmanuel’s been a guy I know I’ve personally wanted since probably the last eight years, since he became a free agent at Pittsburgh,” Shanahan said. “Huge fan of him coming out of the draft and everything he’s done since. We were looking into all possibilities, we didn’t know if any of them would go through. . . . I have felt less urgency than we have in year’s past. I feel good about our group, but we do have a better team right now and we were able to make it better [Tuesday] and pumped he’s here.”
Shanahan said he “really liked” the game film generated by Sanders over the past five or six games. Shanahan also really likes the flexibility Sanders brings to the offense.
“He’s got the ability to do all three of them,” Shanahan said regarding the receiver positions. “Wherever we fit him in, we’ve got kind of an idea, but we’ll settle that on Sunday. Regardless of wherever we lock him in what position, he’s a guy who can play outside, can play inside, can play to the tight end, can play on the open edge. He can do it all.”
He’ll need to do plenty to get ready for Sunday. Sanders is working with former Broncos teammate Wes Welker, now the receivers coach in San Fran, and former NFL receiver/quality control coach Miles Austin to prepare. The new offense that the Broncos were running will help, since offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello has ties to Shanahan and his system. Regardless of verbiage and play design, Shanahan knows Sanders has the skills.
“I think he’s always been very good at separating,” Shanahan said. “He’s wired in a certain way where he can get downfield, he also can break you off inside. Not the biggest guy, but he plays big. He’s hard to get your hands on. He can push through things and he plays very aggressive. The game is not too big for him. He can go over the middle and not flinch. He catches the ball and gets up the field hard. He’s a very good football player plus still a very good talent also.”
He’s a very good talent with a very short period of time before becoming a free agent. Shanahan nevertheless didn’t hesitate to give up a third-round pick and a fourth-round pick to get Sanders and a fifth-round pick from Denver for a guy in the last year of his contract.
“It always gives you pause when it comes to draft picks and everything,” Shanahan said. “But we feel he’s a guy who can come in and help us a lot this year and we’ll see where it goes for him after that. We’re very well aware that he’ll be a free agent at the end of this year and we’ll see how this year goes and hopefully we’ll be able to keep him here. . . . [G]iving up a third-round pick, hopefully that fourth-round pick won’t be much different between Denver and us and what that fifth-round pick is. With that being said, we felt good about it because we know the type of player we got and we know how much he can help us.”
Whatever happens in 2020, the move makes the 49ers a better team in 2019. Whether that makes them good enough to continue to win once the schedule stiffens is something that will play out in the coming weeks.