The New Orleans Saints swooped in and made a deal for unrestricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders— who lit it up against the Saints this past season catching seven passes for 157 yards and a touchdown. For good measure, Sanders threw a touchdown, too. Sean Payton didn’t forget, and the Saints gave Sanders a two-year deal worth $16 million.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell has been grading free agent signings, and he gives this deal a C+. Here is part of Barnwell’s blurb:
This could be a move in which the name is bigger than the production. Sanders had that 157-yard game, but across his other 12 games for San Francisco, he averaged just under 35 receiving yards per contest. Sanders was playing through a rib injury and actually completed a 17-game regular season (after the midseason trade). Still, injuries are also a recent reality for him, given that he missed time with a pair of ankle injuries in 2017 before tearing an Achilles’ tendon in 2018.
Sanders deserves a ton of credit for working his way back from that Achilles’ tear to be ready for Week 1, and his experience can only help the Saints as they try to make their way over a recent playoff hump, but he also just turned 33 and wasn’t especially productive last season. He might have a big game or two, but he isn’t likely to be the sort of difference-maker we saw from his 2014-16 peak. Even if we’re assuming this is a one-year commitment in terms of the guarantee, the Saints are probably paying a fair price or slightly more as opposed to getting a bargain.
I wonder how much Sander’s recent injury history played a factor in the 49ers not making a stronger push to bring him back or match any other offers that were out there. The contract details will be telling on how much money upfront Sanders received as well as when the Saints can get out of the contract.
I do think Barnwell is selling Sanders short as far as his impact goes. He’s going to have more than a big game or two in that offense. Even if Sanders isn’t this “game-changer,” opening up the offense for Michael Thomas will go along way.
The 49ers are in New Orleans again next season.