Mohamed Sanu

How Emmanuel Sanders trade helped 49ers, likely hurt Patriots' offense


How Emmanuel Sanders trade helped 49ers, likely hurt Patriots' offense

Two of the NFL’s best teams in 2019, the New England Patriots and 49ers, both faced a similar problem as the trade deadline approached.

The seemingly well-oiled machines had identified an identical issue: A lack of consistent play from the wide receivers.

While both teams attempted to rectify their passing-game issues at the deadline -- the 49ers dealt a pair of draft picks to the Denver Broncos for Emmanuel Sanders while the Patriots used a second-round pick to acquire Mohamed Sanu from Atlanta -- the results weren’t exactly analogous for the two contenders.

Sanders just completed a dominant performance in New Orleans, catching seven passes for 157 yards and a touchdown -- he threw for one, too. Meanwhile, Sanu caught just one pass for 13 yards in Week 14 as New England suffered a home loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Since Oct. 22, the day both players found their new homes, Sanders is averaging 10.44 receiving yards per target. Sanu? The former Falcon is averaging just 4.66 yards per target.

The 49ers reportedly balked at the price Atlanta wanted for Sanu, but the Patriots might have been better off bringing Sanders in, according to The Athletic’s Mike Sando.

"Sanu has been a solid receiver for a long time, but not as much of a downfield threat. Over the past four seasons, Sanders holds a 67-44 edge over Sanu in passes gaining more than 15 yards, despite Sanu playing four additional games. Sanu could have been a natural fit in San Francisco given that Shanahan was previously his offensive coordinator in Atlanta. He might even be flourishing there, given San Francisco’s superior surrounding talent, including George Kittle. The fit has been questionable in New England.”

The 49ers also have an obvious advantage in fielding George Kittle, who continues to cement his status as one of the NFL’s top tight-ends week in and week out.

[RELATED: Where 49ers, Raiders stand in NFL power rankings now]

But imagine what Josh McDaniels, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady could have whipped up with Emmanuel Sanders stretching the field.

This might go down as a rare mistake in player personnel from the Patriots’ front office, and it also might just be the move that propels the 49ers into playing February football.

NFL trade deadline: 49ers feel good about roster despite no more deals

NFL trade deadline: 49ers feel good about roster despite no more deals

The 49ers needed immediate help, so they did not wait until the trade deadline to make a deal to strengthen their roster at a position of need.

The 49ers focused on adding one of two wide receivers – either, they determined, would provide an upgrade over the players assembled on the team’s roster.

They ended up with veteran Emmanuel Sanders, who could end up being just a half-season rental. But the 49ers are in a position to win now. And Sanders gives them a better chance.

After all, Dante Pettis’ production in the passing game has come to a halt. Deebo Samuel has some flashes, but he is not a player at this point for whom defenses must account. Marquise Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne and Richie James are fine in spot duty.

The 49ers made one move seven days before the trade deadline, and it was designed to pay immediate dividends.

“To say we’re all-in -- I wouldn’t word it that way -- but when you’re 6-0, that’s a little different than where we’ve been a week before the trade deadline these last two years,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said at the time the deal was made.

“When you do have a chance like we do with our record, if we felt we could add to our team and not truly jeopardize it (the future), that’s something we were looking to do.”

The 49ers received Sanders and a fifth-round pick from the Denver Broncos. They sent third- and fourth-round picks to Denver. The club hopes the two draft selections going to Denver will be late in those rounds. Currently, Denver is one of the worst teams in the league, so the fifth-round selection coming back to Santa Clara is likely to be early in that round.

Therefore, the 49ers might only lose 10 to 15 spots in the draft with the exchange of their fourth-rounder for Denver’s fifth. The third-round selection could be offset a year down the road with a compensatory pick if Sanders signs a nice contract with another team in the offseason and the 49ers have more free agency losses than gains.

Because the 49ers needed help now, they did not have any time to wait around for a player. That is why they focused on Sanders and Mohamed Sanu. Those players are healthy and had a knowledge of the system. Sanders played this season under Denver offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who served as the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach the previous two seasons. Sanu played in Shanahan’s system in 2015 and ’16 with the Atlanta Falcons.

The 49ers did not pursue Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green, who still has not played this season due to an ankle injury. The Bengals did not appear eager to trade Green. Also, the 49ers were not sure what kind of player they would be getting due to his injury situation.

The 49ers entered training camp feeling good about their wide receivers. But the club absorbed a couple of big hits when their best pass-catcher throughout the offseason and the first two weeks of camp, Trent Taylor, sustained a fractured foot. The 49ers hope he can be available later in the season.

Also, promising rookie Jalen Hurd has missed all but the first preseason game with a stress reaction in his back.

The 49ers now have reason to like their roster after adding a wide receiver. They could have tried to replenish their 2020 draft after trading their second-round pick for Dee Ford and the other selections for Sanders.

[RELATED: Cardinals coach Kingsbury impressed by 49ers' swagger on defense]

But they also did not want to give away anyone else on their 53-man roster without getting a decent price in return.

“The trade deadline is always here at this time,” Shanahan said on Tuesday. “There’s always a lot of talk. . . It’s hard to do things in the league without taking huge risks on it for not as much reward. That’s usually why there's a lot more talk than action.

“But I was very excited with what we got done last week. I would’ve been excited if we did anything today because if we did it would’ve been good for our team.”

John Lynch says 49ers 'evenly' pursued Mohamed Sanu, Emmanuel Sanders trades

John Lynch says 49ers 'evenly' pursued Mohamed Sanu, Emmanuel Sanders trades

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."

[RELATED: Pettis reportedly could be trade chip for 49ers before deadline]

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.