Coach Kyle Shanahan admitted it was a difficult offseason loss to see veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders get away in free agency a year ago.
Now, the 49ers have a second chance.
The New Orleans Saints on Wednesday released Sanders, who a year ago signed a two-year, $16 million contract as a free agent.
Sanders, who turns 34 next Wednesday, is available to sign with any team ahead of the opening of free agency on his birthday. Sanders announced his release on a social media post.
Sanders spent half of the 2019 season with the 49ers following a trade from the Denver Broncos. He was a key factor in the 49ers’ run to Super Bowl LIV.
“He meant a ton and I think it would have been real hard to get to where we got to if we didn’t make that move for him,” Shanahan said in November, as the 49ers prepared to face the Saints.
“He came in, did exactly what I was hoping for and more.”
In 10 regular-season games, Sanders caught 36 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns. He also provided leadership in a young room of wide receivers. Deebo Samuel, in particular, thrived with Sanders as a teammate.
But the 49ers felt they could not commit the kind of contract to Sanders that would prompt him to re-sign with the 49ers. The 49ers are expected to receive a compensatory pick in the fifth round as a result of losing Sanders in free agency last year.
“(It was) really hard to lose Emmanuel this offseason,” Shanahan said. “One of the toughest decisions we had to make. But New Orleans came through and gave him what he deserved and we had to move in a different direction and go there in the draft.
“Just watching him and what he did for us in that game last year these last couple of days is unbelievable and he’s doing an unbelievable job for them, also.”
If the 49ers make a free-agent play for Sanders this offseason, he would fit into the receiver rotation as the No. 3 option behind Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.