To hear 49ers general manager John Lynch tell it, their trade for a wide receiver was mostly out of their hands.
Lynch told KNBR's "Murph and Mac" on Friday that San Francisco simultaneously pursued Mohammed Sanu and Emmanuel Sanders, talking to the Atlanta Falcons about Sanu and the Denver Broncos about Sanders around the same time. When the New England Patriots traded for Sanu with a second-round pick that the 49ers did not have, the "decision was made for itself," according to Lynch.
"I would say we had [Sanu and Sanders] very evenly ranked, and so much goes into who you're going to end up with," Lynch said Friday (H/T 49ers Webzone). "... "But it wasn't like we were bummed out because I think [49ers coach Kyle Shanahan] has spoken many times about what a fan of Emmanuel he's been. I've been the same way for a long time, and that was kind of unanimous throughout our building."
The 49ers traded 2020 third- and fourth-round picks to acquire Sanders, who could heavily feature in his team debut Sunday against the Carolina Panthers at Levi's Stadium. Sanders tore his Achilles in December, but his game has not dropped off this season. In seven games with Denver, Sanders caught 30 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns. The 32-year-old is averaging 12.2 yards per reception this season, the same as an injury-shortened 2018.
In some ways, Lynch, Shanahan and the 49ers could've seen this coming. They got a firsthand look at Sanders' recovery in August when they practiced with the Broncos ahead of their Week 2 preseason game,
"We had a chance to talk to him at those practices and talk about his recovery, and how well he felt," Lynch said. "He was kind of surprised himself. We just really feel it was an opportunity to improve our team and improve that position group. I think it will make everybody else at that position even better."
Sanders hasn't had 1,000-yard season since 2016, but the 49ers haven't had a receiver with his pedigree in three seasons under Shanahan and Lynch.
The 49ers hope Sanders' experience can boost the rest of their offense, and they'll need him to contribute as their schedule gets much harder down the stretch. The same would've been true of Sanu, of course, but the choice wasn't necessarily San Francisco's to make.