What a difference a few hours makes.
Going into their Thursday night matchup with the Chiefs, the Broncos didn't have to be sellers at the trade deadline later this month. They were 2-4, about to play at home, in prime time, against a banged-up division rival fresh off of back-to-back losses.
Denver wasn't necessarily a front-runner for a playoff spot, but a win over Kansas City would bring them closer to .500 and respectability. If they could get to 3-4, it might've been harder for them to deal off pieces, acquire draft capital and re-launch a re-build.
But now, after a loss in which Fox Sports color commentator Troy Aikman called the Broncos offense "about as bad an offense as I've seen," they're 2-5.
Time to start selling.
One would think that would be John Elway's approach, at least. And if it is, the Patriots could end up the beneficiaries.
Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders has long made the most sense as a Patriots midseason acquisition. He's in the final year of his contract, playing for a team that isn't competing for a postseason spot, and he's a player in whom Bill Belichick has had interest before. Back in 2013, the Patriots signed Sanders to a restricted free agent offer sheet that the Steelers then matched to keep the talented wideout.
Six years later, perhaps Sanders could finally end up in New England. With an ability to play both inside and out, Sanders, 32, would provide a lift for a Patriots offense in need of interior receiving help. He'd help alleviate some of the work thrust upon Julian Edelman in the middle of the field, and he'd provide Tom Brady with a receiver who can shake free from one-on-one coverage in critical moments.
From the sounds of it, Sanders isn't exactly thrilled with the way things are going in Denver.
"I don't even have the answers," he said late Thursday night. "Obviously, I do know. But I ain't gonna say it. It is what it is . . .
"You know. You know the answers. You watched the same game I watched."
Sanders did not, however, take the route other star players have veered down lately, making a public trade request from the home locker room at Mile High.
"Is the season done? No, it's not done, obviously," he said. "We can get on a roll but it doesn't look like it right now after this loss, obvious. That's what everybody's going to be thinking. But at the end of the day, you gotta remain positive. It's the NFL. It's not easy to win. When you do lose, you gotta find a silver lining somewhere. We gotta do that."
Might the silver lining be for Sanders that he could be sent elsewhere? Somewhere where Joe Flacco, who took eight sacks and fumbled three times Thursday, is not his starting quarterback?
It could conceivably cost the Patriots a third-round pick to acquire Sanders, even as only a rental for the remainder of 2019. That's what it cost the Eagles to acquire Golden Tate from the Lions at the deadline last year. Detroit took a 2019 third-rounder and sent away a 30-year-old player they wouldn't be able to re-sign.
The highest compensatory pick Sanders could land the Broncos, Miguel Benzan of Boston Sports Journal informed us, would be a fifth-rounder because he has 10 accrued seasons in the NFL. Perhaps the Patriots wouldn't even have to part with a third-rounder, then, to land Sanders.
The Patriots have plenty of draft capital they could trade. They should have three third-rounders in 2020 if they receive third-round comp picks for losing highly-paid free agents Trey Flowers and Trent Brown.
Sanders injured his knee last week against the Titans, but he played on short rest against the Chiefs and finished the game with five catches for 60 yards. On the season, Sanders has 25 catches for 307 yards and two touchdowns despite having missed two games.
Even with first-round rookie N'Keal Harry on track to return later this season, he would provide more of an outside-the-numbers presence, while Sanders could be an impact player from the slot or outside.
Meanwhile, Josh Gordon is currently dealing with a knee injury. Phillip Dorsett was limited in Thursday's practice limited because of a hamstring, and Edelman was limited with a chest issue. Adding Sanders would appear to be a no-brainer for a Patriots team that's a little light on capable veteran receiver help.
And after the Broncos fell to 2-5 Thursday night, the possibility of Belichick bringing Sanders aboard seems a little more realistic.
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