Why losing free-agent WR Emmanuel Sanders won’t hurt 49ers in 2020

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders #17 of the San Francisco 49ers. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders #17 of the San Francisco 49ers. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers are facing an extremely difficult 2020 free agency period. They have many contracts to rework, a possible franchise tag to place on a deserving player and some key free agents to re-sign. One of their free agents will have to go, Emmanuel Sanders, but the Niners will be OK without him.

Unpopular opinion: The San Francisco 49ers will be just fine if they let wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders walk in free agency this offseason.

Back in October, general manager John Lynch made one the most important in-season trades in recent memory when he traded for Sanders. Lynch knew his team needed help and he got it.

The Niners receiving core wasn’t great, to say the least. Dante Pettis wasn’t living up his potential, Marquise Goodwin dealt with injuries and poor play and the team didn’t have another strong deep threat. Of course, the Niners had the likes of stud rookie receiver Deebo Samuel, fan-favorite tight end George Kittle and, as the season drew on, Kendrick Bourne became a solid tool to have.

Adding Sanders to the mix was a huge boost to the offense. In 10 games with San Francisco, he racked up 502 receiving yards, three touchdowns 67.9 percent catching average and only one bye week all season including the playoffs. He brought a much-needed veteran presence to a fairly young locker room.

But here’s the thing, the 49ers are going to get some young reinforcements, and they could be in the market for someone head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted a couple of years ago.

It was reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Chicago Bears will release wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. He and Shanahan worked with each other in Atlanta and Cleveland, so there is some familiarity between the two.

Under Shanahan, Gabriel had some of his best seasons since he came into the league in 2014. He had two seasons with over 500 yards receiving, a career high of six touchdowns in 2016 and also caught nine passes for 171 total yards in Atlanta’s Super Bowl LI run.

Another aspect of Gabriel’s game that could entice the Niners to move on from Sanders is how often he runs. For an offense based around the run, adding Gabriel’s 191 career rushing yards with Samuel’s 159 yards could make for an even more confusing offense to game plan for.

Niner Noise’s Joshua Altorfer took a look at how receiver Jalen Hurd needed to step up if Sanders doesn’t return, provided he winds up being the X-factor in a pending Sanders absence.

Jalen Hurd needs to step up in Emmanuel Sanders leaves in free agency. light. Related Story

Hurd has yet to play a down with the 49ers, so whenever he is healthy and ready to play, he’ll need to prove to the coaching staff they made the right decision.

We’re also expecting to see receiver Trent Taylor in red and gold in 2020. Taylor has 29 games under his belt. In those handfuls of games, he has 645 yards receiving, three touchdowns and averages just over 6 yards per catch.

Hurd and Taylor are only 24 and 25 years of age, respectively. They could give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo two other weapons to use in the offense if they can stay healthy. These young guns should provide some excitement next season, so make sure you keep them on your radar.

Let’s say Lynch decides to move on Sanders and he signs elsewhere. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen. The 49ers would likely receive another compensatory draft pick, which they’ll need. And it’s possible the Niners will use one of their few picks in the 2020 draft to cash in on a very deep wide receiver class.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “The 49ers need to keep Sanders. They can’t afford to let him walk away. They shouldn’t think about drafting a receiver,” you could be right. However, let’s remember who the Niners took in the 2019 NFL Draft in the second round, Samuel.

San Francisco’s scouting department is one of the best in the league. Many of the guys who dressed for Super Bowl LIV were handpicked by the organization. Don’t forget, Kittle was taken in the fifth round back in 2017 and has broken a few records in only 45 games played.

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Football is a tough business. If Sanders and the 49ers do part ways this offseason, we just have to thank him for an exciting season and move on. The Niners have a lot of options to fill his position and will do so either in free agency or the 2020 NFL Draft.