The San Francisco 49ers still have a few positions they need to address as they get ready for the 2021 NFL season. The Niners can begin negotiating with free agents this afternoon, but no deals can be made official under the new league year begins on Wednesday.
With receiver Kendrick Bourne reportedly going to the New England Patriots, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan could look to bring in a veteran pass-catcher. One player who will be available is former Niner Emmanuel Sanders.
The 33-year-old was released by the New Orleans Saints in a cap-saving move earlier in the offseason a year after signing with them in free agency.
Prior to signing with the Saints, Sanders was part of the 2019 49ers team that made it all the way to the Super Bowl. Lynch acquired the veteran and a 2020 fifth-round selection from the Denver Broncos in exchange for a third and fourth-round pick in 2020.
Sanders put up 36 receptions for 502 yards and three touchdowns during his 10-game stint with San Francisco. He provided quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with a security blanket, and then-rookie Deebo Samuel gushed about Sanders’ leadership skills in the locker room.
Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk will be the top two receivers for the 49ers next season. It looks like Bourne will be out of the Niners’ price range, so adding another piece this offseason makes complete sense.
San Francisco doesn’t have a lot of proven depth behind Samuel and Aiyuk. Veteran Travis Benjamin will be back in the fold after opting out of the 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 scare.
Richie James Jr. is under contract for 2021 but hasn’t shown the consistency you would want from your third option. He had a standout performance in Week 9 loss to the Green Bay Packers, finishing the contest with nine catches for 184 yards and a touchdown.
James has been with the team since 2018 but has mainly been used as a returner. He finished the 2020 season with a career-high in receptions (23) and yards (394). However, consistency issues have plagued the speedster.
Shanahan has had high hopes for the 2019 third-round selection Jalen Hurd, who unfortunately hasn’t played a regular-season down since joining the team. Hurd hurt his back during the 2019 preseason, which caused him to miss his entire rookie campaign. He looked great at last year’s training camp but wound up tearing his ACL. If he can knock off the rust after missing back-to-back seasons, the 49ers will give him plenty of opportunities to make his mark.
Depth piece River Cracraft was thrust into action due to all of the injuries and have seven catches for 85 yards. He was mainly used in a special teams role. Cracraft signed a new deal to stay in San Francisco for the upcoming season.
Of course, the main factor in attempting to re-sign Sanders is the cost. The Niners don’t have a ton of cap space and might be better off allocating those resources elsewhere.
If Sanders is willing to take a discount to reunite with Shanahan and the Niners, it could be a great fit for next season. He showed he still has plenty left in the tank after putting up 61 receptions for 726 yards and five scores in 14 games with New Orleans last season.
Here are some of the wideouts who are slated to become unrestricted free agents:
A.J. Green, Sammy Watkins, Breshad Perriman, Willie Snead, Keelan Cole, Chris Connelly, Danny Amendola.
Do you think the 49ers should try and bring back Sanders? Or should they look for younger/cheaper options?