Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch long have maintained their belief in the 49ers' wide receivers, but that group's lack of production might have forced their hand.
Two days after 49ers receivers had four total catches during a 9-0 win at Washington and one day after Shanahan said "I do think the answers are here," the team went outside to acquire two-time Pro Bowl wideout Emmanuel Sanders in a trade with the Broncos.
Tight end George Kittle leads the 49ers in receptions (34) and receiving yards (376) through six games this season, and no other player has reached 200 receiving yards. Marquise Goodwin is the closest at 181, but now the 49ers will have Sanders, who has caught 30 of his 44 targets for 367 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Sanders had been vocal about that relative lack of production in Denver, as he has broken the 1,000-yard mark three times as a Bronco. The 49ers, meanwhile, would love to have that production.
Kittle likely will be the immediate beneficiary of Sanders' arrival, as opposing defenses will have to focus on another explosive target and might lighten pressure on the tight end. Sanders also should be an immediate weapon for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, having worked in Rich Scangarello's Broncos offense, which is very similar conceptually to Shanahan's 49ers scheme. Scangarello previously was the 49ers' quarterbacks coach.
The 49ers had hoped for more production from second-year pro Dante Pettis, who has struggled with a pectoral muscle injury since training camp and caught just nine of his 17 targets for 83 yards and one TD. The injury bug has further thinned the 49ers' receiving ranks, as Trent Taylor, who stood out in training camp, was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 20 after a setback with his foot, and third-round draft pick Jalen Hurd landed on the list on Oct. 3 with a back injury. Second-round pick Deebo Samuel missed Sunday's win with a groin injury.
Shanahan has stayed consistent with his praise of the receivers, but he also has said the team would watch for potential help. The trade for Sanders appears to be an attempt to do just that.
"We're always looking to improve, but I do like the guys we have here," the coach said Monday.
One day later, Lynch and the 49ers' braintrust made their move.