Emmanuel Sanders Providing Star Value as Free Agent Pickup


Oct 23, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 35-21. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

What can be said about Emmanuel Sanders that hasn’t already been said at this point? The Denver Broncos came away from free agency with an absolute steal, and not a fluke either — this guy is here to stay.

Sanders was a restricted free agent in the Spring of 2013, and the Broncos had no reason to bite at that point. They signed Wes Welker as their slot receiver, and had Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Julius Thomas waiting for him to join what would become the highest scoring offense in league history.

The Broncos found plenty of bargains in the 2013 free agent class, not the least of which are All Pro guard Louis Vasquez and captain Terrance Knighton, one of the best defensive tackles in the game today. One of those bargains, however, was not Sanders, who was signed to a very modest offer sheet as a restricted free agent by the New England Patriots, who were trying to replace Welker.

Sanders signed the offer sheet, and the Steelers matched it. It was a no-brainer for Pittsburgh, who wasn’t matching a long-term offer for Sanders and had not reason not to keep him at a price of under $3 million.

The Patriots wound up picking up Danny Amendola from the St. Louis Rams on a five-year deal that looks worse by the game. Amendola was paid big money by the Patriots to replace Wes Welker, but that void has been filled now by Julian Edelman, who was re-signed by the Patriots this past offseason.

Nearly a Patriot, the Steelers made good on their investment in Sanders, throwing him the ball a total of 112 times last season resulting in 67 catches for 740 yards and six touchdowns, all career-highs.

The Steelers apparently weren’t really in the mix for Sanders this past offseason in free agency. He was considering offers from a variety of teams, namely the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, and perhaps some interest as well from the San Francisco 49ers. While Sanders waited for a deal to his liking, the Broncos were busy upgrading their defense significantly. They brought in T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, and Aqib Talib to revive the Orange Crush that was dismantled by injuries in 2013.

Once they finished all the overhauling of the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos knew they had to make some moves offensively, particularly at the wide receiver position. Eric Decker bolted for the New York Jets when it was clear that the Broncos weren’t going to make him an offer. Replacing two years with over 1,000 yards receiving and double-digit touchdown grabs wasn’t going to be easy, but the Broncos had their eyes on Brandon LaFell, if you’ll remember.

It was rumored LaFell would visit the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, but he wound up signing with the Patriots. LaFell has turned out to be a really nice addition for New England, but the Broncos missed out on what was seemingly their primary target at the wide receiver position.

But John Elway had something else up his sleeve. The Broncos took a risk in letting Emmanuel Sanders’ market cool down a bit. There were reports that it was down to the Kansas City Chiefs or San Francisco 49ers for his services, and I think a lot of people expected him to command a pretty sizeable contract on the open market. The Broncos didn’t seem like a realistic destination after all the money they had just spent on the other side of the ball, but they entered the sweepstakes.

Denver jumped in and stole Sanders with a three-year contract worth roughly $5 million per season. There was a lot of bad blood, because the Kansas City Chiefs or at least sources near their camp reported that they thought they had a deal done with Sanders, which he says was never the case.

At any rate, Broncos 1, Chiefs 0 before the season even started.

Sanders came to Denver and it was apparent early on that he was going to be a huge difference maker in this offense. He immediately went to workouts with Peyton Manning and company at Duke to start building chemistry with his new quarterback. They started to build a rapport and it has grown into a full-fledged thing of beauty.

You could see at training camp that Sanders’ speed set him apart. The Broncos have speed in Demaryius Thomas, but nothing quite like the package Sanders brings to the table. He is quick off the line, able to beat press coverage — something Eric Decker could not do consistently (especially in the Super Bowl). He catches EVERYTHING, and he is tough as nails.

The Broncos got an absolute steal in Emmanuel Sanders and appear to have a guy in line for his first 1,000 yard season in the NFL, which pales in comparison to the impact he can make on a team that has Super Bowl aspirations.