Emmanuel Sanders

Emmanuel Sanders Announces Retirement

Emmanuel Sanders will not pursue a 13th NFL season. The former Steelers, Broncos, 49ers, Saints and Bills wide receiver announced his retirement Wednesday morning (video link).

While Sanders has been with four teams since the start of the 2019 season, each used the versatile veteran as a starter. The SMU alum helped the 49ers, Saints and Bills venture to the playoffs, most notably trekking to Super Bowl LIV with San Francisco. Sanders’ best statistical seasons came with the Broncos, whom he helped boost to a win in Super Bowl 50.

Sanders, 35, hinted at this possibility in February, after coming off another season as a regular starter. No known discussions took place about a second Sanders Bills contract, but the productive pass catcher was a 13-game starter for a Buffalo team that advanced to the divisional round. The hired gun’s final season produced 626 yards in 14 games. That marked his lowest output since an injury-shortened 2017 season. Sanders will walk away a three-time 1,000-yard receiver and a two-time Pro Bowler.

Faring well as an outside receiver and in the slot during a career that included a host of memorable moments, Sanders also succeeded on the contract front. The Broncos gave him two deals — a free agency accord in 2014 and an extension two years later — with the latter pact worth $33MM over three years. Upon being traded to San Francisco ahead of the 2019 deadline, Sanders made an impact as a key supporting-caster with the 49ers. That work led to a two-year, $16MM Saints contract in 2020. While the Saints bailed on the deal after one season, Sanders caught on with the Bills via a one-year, $6MM deal.

The Steelers used Sanders in a supporting role during his rookie contract but paid Antonio Brown in 2012. While Sanders remained on the WR2 tier for most of his career, the former third-round pick was one of the NFL’s top auxiliary targets for many years. His initial Broncos commitment — a three-year, $15MM agreement that came after the Chiefs nearly signed him — preceded a significant production spike. Replacing departed free agent Eric Decker in 2014, Sanders blew up for a career-high 1,404 receiving yards. He and longtime teammate Demaryius Thomas combined for more than 3,000 yards that year.

Although Peyton Manning‘s prime abruptly ended after that 2014 season, Sanders continued his midcareer boom as the five-time MVP declined in 2015. During Denver’s Super Bowl-winning year, Sanders posted 1,176 yards. As teams focused on Thomas in the playoffs, Sanders (230 receiving yards during the 2015 postseason) became Manning’s top chain-mover en route to the Broncos’ third championship. That production led to Sanders’ big-ticket extension on the eve of Denver’s 2016 opener. The Broncos had Sanders and Thomas each tied to eight-figure per-year deals from 2016-18, and while each again topped 1,000 yards despite Manning’s retirement giving way to Trevor Siemian‘s unexpected 2016 promotion, neither finished out their Broncos extensions.

Denver dealt Thomas at the 2018 deadline and moved Sanders in 2019. The Broncos collected third- and fourth-round picks for Sanders, who tallied 502 yards in 10 49ers games during that season’s stretch run. With Michael Thomas‘ run of injuries beginning in 2020, Sanders was Drew Brees‘ top target in the future Hall of Famer’s final season. Sanders will have retired playing with Manning, Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. It is obviously too early to declare Josh Allen a Hall of Fame-bound player, but Sanders’ career featured some rather high-profile quarterbacks.

Sanders, who played in Super Bowls with three different teams, leaves the game with 704 receptions (52nd all time), 9,245 receiving yards and 51 touchdowns.

Emmanuel Sanders Considering Retirement

Emmanuel Sanders has spent the past few seasons chasing a second Super Bowl ring, but 2021 may have been the final chapter in that endeavor. As Nick Fierro of Sports Illustrated writes, the veteran is giving retirement some serious consideration. 

Sanders will be 35 by the start of the 2022 season, which would be his 13th year in the league. In an interview with Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports, he made it clear that his priorities may be changing with regards to the balance between football and family.

“I’ve got my son, he’s getting older”, he said. “I’ve got a daughter getting older. And for the past three years, [I’ve] been traveling and moving from team to team, trying to win a Super Bowl. But I’ve got some reflecting I want to do and possibly retire. I don’t know yet. I’m just feeling it out”.

Sanders spent the first four years of his career with the Steelers, after being drafted in the third round in 2010. His longest – and most successful – stint came with the Broncos, which included a stretch of three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. It’s also where he won his only Super Bowl to date. He got a chance at another title with the 49ers in 2019, but wound up on the losing end of that game.

After a season with the Saints which saw another playoff appearance, and demonstrated he could still be a productive complementary receiver, Sanders joined his third new team in as many years. He signed a one-year, $6MM deal with the Bills last March. Even though Sanders didn’t exactly fill the stat sheet (42 catches, 626 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games), he had another good opportunity at a Super Bowl. Once again, he was ousted by the Chiefs, though, in an iconic game which may have been his last in the NFL.

If Sanders does find a home for another season, he would need 755 yards to reach 10,000 for his career. If he doesn’t return to Buffalo, the Bills would still have Stefon DiggsCole Beasley and Gabriel Davis under contact for next season.

AFC Notes: Jackson, Sanders, DeCastro

There’s been a lot of talk about the coming Lamar Jackson extension this offseason. Both he and the Ravens have insisted something will get worked out, and that they’re not worried about when. We heard this past week that Jackson was still operating without an agent, and that his mother was running point on negotiations as his business partner. Apparently that has some people concerned, causing the NFLPA to reach out. The players’ union “has tried to assist to no avail,” during the process, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes.

La Canfora says Jackson has received “zero guidance” from the NFLPA. He also notes that since no agent is involved, there’s naturally “zero flow of information about it in the agent community.” La Canfora opines that since the contract negotiation process “requires exposing warts and engaging in a bare-fisted back-and-forth at times,” it can be a “far easier exchange with a third party.” He also says he’s inclined to think the negotiations drag “on for a while, and we don’t get a lot of action in the first half of July.” It’s a unique situation for the Ravens and their franchise quarterback, and one everyone around the league will be watching with eyebrows raised. It should be very interesting to see how it all plays out.

Here’s more from around the AFC:

  • The Bills finally got their man, signing Emmanuel Sanders to a one-year deal this past offseason. Apparently they’ve been after the veteran receiver for a while. GM Brandon Beane tried to trade for Sanders at the 2019 trade deadline, Joe Buscaglia of The Athletic writes. He was ultimately traded from the Broncos to the 49ers at that deadline instead. We knew Buffalo pursued him in free agency last year, but he ended up signing with the Saints. The third time turned out to be the charm. Sanders turned 34 in March but remained fairly productive in New Orleans last season and Buscaglia seems bullish on his outlook, writing that he’s the “most underrated piece” of the Bills’ offense and that Josh Allen looked for him often during recent practices.
  • David DeCastro was just released by the Steelers last week, and the veteran lineman is reportedly considering retirement. Although DeCastro will apparently wait at least a couple of months before deciding whether or not to play again, he has another decision that sounds easier for him to make. DeCastro is “likely to file a grievance” through the NFLPA against the Steelers, Ed Bouchette of The Athletic writes. Pittsburgh released him with a non-football injury designation, but DeCastro said recently the ankle problem for which he’ll soon undergo another surgery is something he was dealing with from last season that didn’t heal right. Bouchette seems to think the Steelers know they’ll have to end up paying DeCastro some more money down the line, but that they made the move so they’d immediately be able to fit Trai Turner‘s contract into their salary cap.

New York Notes: Darnold, Giants, Sanders

Before the legal tampering period kicked off, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com said it was more likely than not that the Jets would trade Sam Darnold, assuming that BYU QB Zach Wilson — whom the Jets would select with the No. 2 overall pick to replace Darnold — “checks the important boxes during the pre-draft process.” Cimini said at the time that there was a market for Darnold, and he named Washington, the Bears, the Seahawks, the Texans, and the 49ers as potential landing spots.

But since then, WFT signed Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chicago acquired Andy Dalton. Obviously, neither of those QBs are long-term answers, but they do at least obviate an immediate need for a signal-caller. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are moving forward with Russell Wilson, Houston may be unable to trade incumbent QB Deshaun Watson in light of the sexual abuse allegations that have been levied against him, and it’s unclear how actively San Francisco is pursuing an upgrade over Jimmy Garoppolo. As such, the Jets might not be able to trade Darnold, and it will be interesting to see if that will impact the team’s decision with respect to Zach Wilson (or any other rookie passer).

Now for more out of the Empire State:

  • In less exciting Jets news, the team is still looking into free agent kickers and wants to find a starting-caliber corner, as Cimini writes. The CB need will probably be filled in the draft; Cimini does not expect the club to pursue Richard Sherman, despite the obvious Sherman-Robert Saleh connection.
  • It might go without saying, but when the Giants agreed to a three-year, $63MM pact with DL Leonard Williams a few days ago, Williams agreed to drop his grievance concerning his 2020 franchise tag, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Williams was tagged as a defensive tackle but believed he should have received a defensive end tag, and if he had prevailed, his tag number for 2021 would have jumped to $21.4MM. Since he got a $21MM AAV on his extension, things worked out just fine for him in the end.
  • Per Dan Duggan of The Athletic, Williams — who is clearly not afraid to bet on himself — pushed for a shorter contract so that he can hit the open market again before he turns 30. Duggan says the Giants have explored restructures for 2020 signees James Bradberry and Blake Martinez, something the club may need to really push for now that it has agreed to a big-money deal for WR Kenny Golladay.
  • The Giants signed veteran TE Kyle Rudolph earlier this week, but his addition does not impact Evan Engram‘s status with the team, a source tells Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com. Engram will play out the 2021 season on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal and hopes for a strong platform performance after struggling a bit in 2020.
  • These days, instead of being forced to reach out to agents to convince their clients to play in western New York, agents are the ones calling the Bills, as Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News writes. Head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane have created a winning club and a positive culture, and players around the league are taking notice and now see Buffalo as an attractive destination. While the Bills didn’t have a ton of cap space heading into this year’s free agent cycle — or many major holes to fill — they did bring in WR Emmanuel Sanders, whom they had targeted for several years. Sanders is a prime example of the changing feelings towards Buffalo, saying “[w]ho wouldn’t want to be part of it?” (via John Wawrow of the Associated Press).

Bills To Sign WR Emmanuel Sanders

7:05pm: Sanders is indeed joining the Bills. Pelissero reports (via Twitter) that the veteran wideout will be signing a one-year deal with Buffalo. Sanders is set to fly to Buffalo on Thursday after he’s officially released by the Saints, at which time he’ll take a physical and finalize his deal. ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets that the one-year deal is worth $6MM, including an additional $500K in incentives.

6:23pm: It sounds like Emmanuel Sanders could be heading to Buffalo. NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero reports (via Twitter) that the Bills are in “serious talks” with the veteran free agent wideout.

As Pelissero notes, the Saints have yet to release Sanders, with that transaction expected to take place after 4pm tomorrow due to cap reasons. However, it’s been almost a week since we heard of New Orleans’ intent to cut the veteran, and the team formally announced the impending transaction today.

Sanders joined the Saints on a two-year, $16MM last offseason. The veteran went on to notch 61 catches for 726 yards and five touchdowns during his first season in the NFC. Even though he was productive, he was less efficient on a per-catch basis than usual; his 11.9 ypc average was among the lowest of his career and well below his finest work in Denver.

It’s been a while since Sanders was a 1,000-yard receiver, a mark he exceeded with the Broncos each season between 2014 and 2016. Since 2017, the veteran has averaged 754.5 yards per season, making him a serviceable second or third wideout on the depth chart.

That would presumably be his role in Buffalo. Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley are Josh Allen‘s top two targets, but following John Brown‘s release, the team is presumably seeking a third receiver who can compete with the likes of Gabriel Davis for targets.

Saints Release Emmanuel Sanders

The Saints have released Emmanuel Sanders, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The wide receiver has since confirmed the news via social media.

[RELATED: Saints Release Alexander]

Sanders joined the Saints on a two-year, $16MM deal this time last year. The veteran went on to notch 61 catches for 726 yards and five touchdowns. Even though he was productive, he was less efficient on a per-catch basis than usual. His 11.9 ypc average was among the lowest of his career and well below his finest work in Denver.

The Saints are facing a tricky cap situation, one that is compounded by Drew Breesstill pending retirement decision. Cutting Sanders will save $4MM on the books for 2021 with $6MM left in dead money, unless the Saints disperse the dead money hit via a post-June 1 designation. The Saints also cut Kwon Alexander earlier today so, between those two moves, they’ll free up $17MM in advance of free agency.

Sanders, a two-time Pro Bowler, drew interest from the Cowboys, Jets, Bills, and Packers in his last free agency stint.

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.

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.