Emmanuel Sanders

NFC South Notes: Bucs, Thomas, McCaffrey

Not that much doubt existed as to why Antonio Brown is in Tampa, but the Buccaneers indeed reversed course on the volatile wide receiver because Tom Brady pushed for the signing, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora notes. Brown is living with Brady, who insisted to Buccaneers brass he would work with the former All-Pro daily to ensure he does not become a problem for the organization.

Brady told them he is going to make sure this is not a problem,” a source with knowledge of this process told La Canfora. “He guaranteed BA (Bruce Arians) that he would make sure this guy did everything he has to do, even if Brady has to drive him there himself. And (the Bucs) made it clear to Brady that Brown is on a very short leash. If he (slips up), he’s gone.”

Brown went from potential first-ballot Hall of Famer to the epicenter of numerous controversies last year, but Brady expressed disappointment the Patriots released him after one game. Arians said in March that Brown would not be a fit with the Bucs. They activated him this week; Brown will debut for a third team Sunday against the Saints.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • Staying on the subject of availability for the biggest game in the history of the Saints-Bucs series, Michael Thomas is finally on track to return to action. The All-Pro wide receiver, who has not played since suffering an ankle injury against the Bucs in Week 1, is on track to be back in action Sunday night, Dianna Russini of ESPN.com tweets. Thomas has missed six games due to ankle and hamstring injuries and for striking a teammate. Emmanuel Sanders also practiced Friday, putting the veteran No. 2 wideout in line to play Sunday. Sanders missed two games after contracting the coronavirus.
  • In this suddenly intergalactic matchup of receiving corps, Chris Godwin will be back as well. Arians said Friday the fourth-year target will be back after undergoing surgery on a broken finger. Godwin has missed time due to three separate issues this season, and given that doctors told him he would face a four- to six-week recovery timetable — per ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter — his return will be worth monitoring. Doctors inserting pins into Godwin’s damaged index finger opened the door for him to miss just one game, Schefter adds.
  • Keeping with the “return to action” theme here, Christian McCaffrey‘s six-week hiatus is expected to end. The All-Pro Panthers back will be activated ahead of Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, per Matt Rhule. McCaffrey has been sidelined since Week 2 because of a high ankle sprain.
  • Calvin Ridley is battling a mid-foot sprain, per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (Twitter link), and is questionable to face the Broncos on Sunday. Ridley left the Falcons’ Week 8 win with the foot malady.

Saints To Place Emmanuel Sanders On Reserve/COVID-19 List

Nov. 1: Although Sanders will miss the Saints’ game against the Bears today, he is recovering and is expected to rejoin his club for its critical divisional matchup with the Bucs on November 8 (Twitter link via Schefter).

Oct. 23: The Saints’ wide receiver issues have continued into Week 7. They are placing Emmanuel Sanders on their reserve/COVID-19 list, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

This will sideline Sanders for New Orleans’ Week 7 game against Carolina. With Michael Thomas encountering a hamstring issue this week, the Saints will be without their top two wideouts. They declared Thomas out with the hamstring malady. This will be his fifth straight absence.

Players who land on the reserve/COVID-19 list must isolate for at least five days. This will put New Orleans in an unusual position. Coming into this season, Thomas had missed just one game since arriving in 2016. His latest issue will result in the Saints’ receiving corps being unusually shorthanded.

The Saints gave Sanders a two-year, $16MM deal to fill their years-long need for a proven No. 2 wide receiver. Tre’Quan Smith will now slide up to the No. 1 spot.

Thomas practiced in a limited capacity Wednesday but did not participate Thursday or Friday. He missed Weeks 2-4 because of an ankle injury and was down in Week 5 because of a team-imposed suspension. Sanders helped fill Thomas’ role, despite a slow start. He has 18 receptions for 215 yards in the past two games.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC South Rumors: Arians, Saints, Okung

Having battled three different types of cancer and being set to turn 68 in October, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians falls into the higher-risk category for potential coronavirus complications. But Arians will coach this season, and he is not planning to do so from the press box. The second-year Bucs HC will coach from the sideline while wearing a mask and a face shield, he said recently.

As far as on the field, I’ll maintain a mask and probably a shield just for personal use and coach like I’ve always coached,” Arians said. “I’m very confident. Like I said, the protocols that are in place are extremely safe.”

Arians has had cancerous tumors to be removed from his prostate, skin and kidney. He enters the season as NFL’s third-oldest head coach, behind Pete Carroll, who are both 68. Two head coaches — Sean Payton and Doug Pederson — have tested positive for COVID-19 thus far. The Eagles HC tested positive earlier this week. Players and coaches are currently being tested daily. This arrangement will continue for two weeks before the league reassesses.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • Russell Okung dealt with a health scare last year but did not opt out of the 2020 season. However, the Panthers‘ recently acquired left tackle is considering retirement. But Okung will wait on a decision for now. The 11th-year veteran will keep his options open as he goes further into camp, advisor J.I. Halsell told NFL reporter Josina Anderson (Twitter link). It’s possible the 31-year-old blocker wants to learn more about what this season’s COVID-19-defined environment will bring. Okung has a $13MM salary awaiting him this season but has already made a considerable amount of money in his career.
  • Emmanuel Sanders made the initial contact between he and the Saints in free agency, the 11th-year wide receiver said, per The Athletic’s Katherine Terrell (on Twitter). The former Steelers, Broncos and 49ers wideout wanted to play with Drew Brees in New Orleans, and that helped lead to the two-year, $16MM deal he signed in March. Sanders also assisted the Saints with another free agent receiver, with a Brees-Sanders-Bennie Fowler workout in Denver leading to the latter’s signing this week (Twitter link via Terrell).
  • The Falcons plan to use recently signed cornerback Darqueze Dennard as a slot and boundary cornerback in training camp, D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes. Dennard mostly worked as a slot defender in Cincinnati. Atlanta signed Dennard earlier last week. He will join a cornerback crew that features third-year player Isaiah Oliver and first-round rookie A.J. Terrell.
  • Given Brees’ year-to-year status, the Saints are obviously not eyeing a contract-year trade of Alvin Kamara. But no known extension talks have taken place between the Saints and their standout back. However, a deal that pays the three-down back just less than what Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott make ($16MM and $15MM AAV, respectively) is a solution The Athletic’s Larry Holder envisions (subscription required). Kamara, one of several running back starters in contract years, has said he wants to stay in New Orleans.

Bills, Packers Pursued Emmanuel Sanders

Emmanuel Sanders became the third-highest-paid wide receiver free agent this offseason, trailing younger cogs Amari Cooper and Robby Anderson. But before signing a two-year, $16MM Saints deal, the veteran received extensive interest on the market.

In addition to the 49ers wanting to retain him and some interest from the Cowboys and Jets, two 2019 playoff teams sought Sanders. The Bills and Packers were in the mix for the 33-year-old wideout, Sanders confirmed.

Both teams contacted him on the first day of the legal tampering period, as did the 49ers. While the Bills discussed a deal with Sanders, they reached an agreement to acquire Stefon Diggs less than an hour after the sides’ phone call.

I spoke with the Bills for a little bit and I told them, ‘Let me think about the idea; give me a night,'” Sanders said during an appearance on The Rich Eisen Show (audio link). “And 30 minutes later the Stefon Diggs deal went through and I was like, ‘OK.’ So then I kind of waited. I was talking to Green Bay; I was talking to the Niners, just trying to figure out what type of deal, what type of money we’re talking about. And then the Saints called. I was ecstatic about them, the opportunity to play with Drew Brees, and the numbers made sense.”

While Buffalo unloaded a major asset to bolster its receiving corps with a younger player, Green Bay took the cheaper route in signing Devin Funchess. The Packers figure to still be in the market for receivers when the draft opens. Their Davante Adams sidekick contingent has not panned out, leaving the Packers with a clear need. The 49ers acquired the No. 13 overall pick from the Colts in the DeForest Buckner trade, and they also will likely be in the running for a first-round wide receiver.

Sanders said he signed with the Saints because of their consistent offense reminding him of his first season with the Broncos, in 2014, and because of Brees’ two-year contract. It is not yet known if Brees will play in 2021, but Sanders appears to be rooting for that to happen.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Saints To Sign Emmanuel Sanders

The Saints are making a big move. New Orleans has agreed to sign free agent Emmanuel Sanders to a two-year deal, the receiver told Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The deal has a base value of $16MM and can be worth up to $19MM, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

The receiver market has been slow to develop outside of a couple of signings, and this could help get the ball rolling. We heard last week that the 49ers were hoping Sanders would have a poor market so they could re-sign him cheaply, but obviously that didn’t happen. Even after they re-signed Amari Cooper, we heard that Dallas was interested in adding Sanders.

The Jets were also interested in reuniting Sanders with Adam Gase, a source told Mike Klis of Denver 9 News (Twitter link), so it sounds like his market ended up being relatively strong. Schefter also tweeted that he spoke with the Packers as well. It’s a nice pickup for the Saints, who struggled for consistent options behind Michael Thomas last season. Thomas was obviously setting records, but Drew Brees was often throwing to a rotating cast of formerly undrafted guys beyond him.

They now have a consistent number two option, even though Sanders is getting up there in age. The SMU product turned 33 earlier this week, but he remained productive last year. Playing in 17 regular season games because of a mid-season trade from the Broncos to San Francisco, Sanders had 66 receptions for 869 yards and five touchdowns.

He had a couple of huge blowup games with the 49ers, but overall didn’t seem to have the best connection with Jimmy Garoppolo. Sanders put up some gaudy numbers with Peyton Manning, and won Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos. He tore his Achilles late in the 2018 season which many thought would slow him down physically, but he bounced back admirably well.

The Saints are going all in on one last championship run with Brees, so this move makes a lot of sense and shores up one of their few weaknesses. With Sanders off the market, Robby Anderson is probably the top receiver still available. Guys like Breshad Perriman, Phillip Dorsett, Devin Funchess, and Nelson Agholor are also left.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Interested In Emmanuel Sanders

The Cowboys have expressed interest in Emmanuel Sanders, according to Jane Slater of NFL.com (on Twitter). For the SMU product, it would mark a return to Texas. Meanwhile, the Cowboys would get another proven vet to help replace Randall Cobb, who has moved on to the Texans

Sanders, a two-time Pro Bowler, trains in Dallas in the offseason and Slater hears that the interest is mutual. Last year, Sanders was shipped from the Broncos to the 49ers midway through the season and caught 36 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns for his new team. He was a little quieter in the playoff run to the Super Bowl with five receptions for 71 yards in the postseason.

The Cowboys re-upped Amari Cooper on a five-year, $100MM deal on Monday, meaning that he’ll return as the team’s WR1 for 2020 and beyond. The Cowboys also have receivers Michael Gallup, Devin Smith, and Cedrick Wilson under contract. Whether they sign Sanders or not, you can expect to see another notable name join the group.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC West Rumors: Cousins, 49ers, Seahawks

Prior to the Patriots sending Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for merely a second-round pick, rumblings of a Kyle ShanahanKirk Cousins reunion occurred. Shanahan admitted Cousins was in the 49ers’ pre-Garoppolo plans. Although Garoppolo just quarterbacked the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV, the prospect of the 49ers jettisoning Garoppolo and signing Cousins in 2021 has popped up on some radars around the league, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Cousins’ fully guaranteed Vikings contract expires at season’s end, and Garoppolo’s 49ers-friendly deal contains no more guaranteed money.

Cousins played under Shanahan with the Redskins from 2012-13, though Robert Griffin III was Washington’s starter for most of that span. Cousins will turn 32 this year, and the cap-strapped Vikings are expected to explore an extension for their third-year starter soon. If no deal gets done by Week 1, the throwback Cousins-to-San Francisco plotline may gain steam.

Here is the latest from the NFC West, moving first to the defensive side of the 49ers’ depth chart:

  • DeForest Buckner‘s fifth-year option price will drop from $14.36MM to $12.38MM, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter). This reflects Buckner’s place as a defensive tackle, and not an end, in the 49ers’ 4-3 scheme. The 49ers hope to finalize a Buckner extension this offseason, and this adjustment figures to play into the talks. The Pro Bowl inside defender is entering a contract year.
  • Linked to being less than eager to wade into deep salary waters to retain Jadeveon Clowney, the Seahawks may be concerned with the free agent-to-be’s injury history. That could well be the reason the Seahawks are not prepared to pay Clowney north of $20MM AAV, John Clayton of 710 AM Seattle notes. A few other Clowney suitors have emerged — including the Giants, Colts and Titans — and Clayton expects the 2019 trade acquisition to leave Seattle soon.
  • Not only is Clowney a free agent, but so are D-linemen Jarran Reed, Quinton Jefferson and Ziggy Ansah. The Seahawks would like to re-sign Jefferson, but Clayton adds that the defensive tackle has generated steady interest on the market. Jefferson has 6.5 sacks over the past two seasons and, thanks to plus run defense, graded as Pro Football Focus’ No. 27 interior defender in 2019.
  • The 49ers will be in the market for receiver help, but Matt Barrows of The Athletic notes (subscription required) the cap space-starved franchise’s likely goal will be for a modest Emmanuel Sanders market to entice him to re-sign. Shanahan and John Lynch may be waiting to see what teams offer the soon-to-be 33-year-old wideout, with Sanders revealing this week he and the 49ers had not engaged in an extension talks this offseason.
  • Despite the 49ers using Tevin Coleman as their RB2 in Super Bowl LIV, Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida remain low-cost options and may have better routes back to the 2020 roster. In addition to Jerick McKinnon needing to redo his lucrative deal to stay on the team, Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News writes Coleman might have to do the same. It would be interesting to see Shanahan cut bait on Coleman, whom he’s now coached for two teams. Coleman is set to make $4.55MM in base salary in the final year of his deal.

49ers Pushing For DeForest Buckner Extension

DeForest Buckner is set to hit free agency following the 2020 season, and the 49ers are apparently motivated to sign him to a long-term deal. Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com writes that the organization is “pushing to try to make” an extension a “reality.”

The 2016 first-round pick has emerged as one of the 49ers top players, as he’s collected 19.5 sacks over the past two seasons. He got a Pro Bowl nod following his breakout 2018 campaign, and he earned first-team All-Pro recognition following the 2019 season.

Last April, the organization exercised the fifth-year option on the defensive tackle. He’ll earn a $14.36MM base salary in 2020 before hitting free agency next spring.

While the 49ers may be working on an extension for Buckner, the front office will also have to switch focus to their current free agents. Earlier today, wideout Emmanuel Sanders revealed that his camp hasn’t had any discussions with the 49ers regarding a new contract (Twitter link).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Injury Updates: Barkley, 49ers, Lockett

The Giants may be a long shot to make the postseason, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to shut down their star players. When asked if the team would rest running back Saquon Barkley, head coach Pat Shurmur responded with an emphatic “absolutely not” (via Ralph Vacchiano of SNY).

Shurmur had previously acknowledged that Barkley was a bit banged up, and that was evident after the running back compiled a single rushing yard on 13 carries during the Giants’ loss to the Jets on Sunday. ESPN’s Jordan Raanan reports that Barkley had an X-ray on his shoulder after the game. There was some thought that the 22-year-old was suffering from an ankle or leg injury, but Barkley acknowledged that his legs are still feeling good.

The Giants and Barkley will look to get back on track when they return from their bye week. The team will visit the Bears on November 24th.

Let’s check out some more injury notes from around the NFL…

  • We’ve got some updates on key 49ers skill players. ESPN’s Adam Schefter notes (on Twitter) that wideout Emmanuel Sanders‘s s-rays for a rib injury were inconclusive. The veteran was set to undergo an MRI today to determine the extent of the “damage.” Meanwhile, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero tweets that running back Matt Breida will get a second opinion on his sprained ankle. While the injury isn’t thought to be serious, Breida may still be sidelined for several games.
  • Seahawks wideout Tyler Lockett was at the hospital last night getting treatment for a leg contusion, but Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com passes along that the receiver is alright. Coach Pete Carroll told 710 ESPN that the bruise caused a “pretty severe situation” thanks to the subsequent swelling, and Lockett didn’t return with the team to Seattle. The 27-year-old is having another productive season, hauling in 62 receptions for 793 yards and four touchdowns.
  • Some good news out of Indy: Colts coach Frank Reich told reporters that wideout Devin Funchess should return to practice this week. “Technically, he could be cleared to play the game,” Reich said (via Jim Ayello of the Indy Star). “But he’s got a few more boxes to check. We have to make sure he’s good to go because this will really be his first week of practice. Then we still have to see how much he’ll be able to do Wednesday. We’re really encouraged. I think there’s another box he has to check before we can go full boar on the practice.” Funchess landed on the IR after breaking his collarbone during the season opener.
  • Bengals tight end Drew Sample suffered a high ankle sprain this past weekend, reports NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (via Twitter). The 2019 second-rounder will undergo additional tests to determine how much time he’ll miss, but Rapoport notes that he’s a candidate for the injured reserve. The rookie has hauled in five catches for 30 yards in nine games (two starts) this season.

Designated To Return: Broncos, Lions, Titans

With roughly half of the 2019 campaign in the books, NFL clubs have started to exercise their right to return players from injured reserve. Each team is allowed to bring two players back from IR, but said players must have been retained on their respective club’s initial 53-man roster. Once an IR player returns to practice, his club will have three weeks to decide whether to activate him to their 53-man roster; if he’s not activated, the player will remain on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

Here are three players who have been designated to return from IR this week:

  • Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick has returned to practice and has been designated to return, as Mike Klis of 9News tweets. A 2017 undrafted free agent, Patrick suffered a broken hand in Week 1 of the 2019 campaign but is now ready for action. Patrick broke out in the final month of last season, posting 19 receptions for 242 yards during the last quarter of the campaign. When he returns to game action, Patrick could see a significant role in a now Emmanuel Sanders-less receiving corps.
  • The Lions have designated defensive end Austin Bryant to return from IR, and he practiced Wednesday, the club announced today. Bryant was selected in the fourth round of the 2019 draft, so he’s yet to play an NFL snap. During his final two seasons at Clemson, Bryant posted 17 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss. If activated, Bryant could help a Detroit defensive line that currently ranks bottom-seven in both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders.
  • Defensive back Josh Kalu has been designated to return from IR by the Titans, per Jim Wyatt of TitansOnline.com (Twitter link). An undrafted free agent out of Nebraska in 2018, Kalu spent most of last year on Tennessee’s practice squad before being promoted in December. He played in five games and saw action on 48 special teams snaps.