GREAT CATCH: Emmanuel Sanders Gives Saints Offense a Versatile Play-Maker

Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints on

“Versatility”. It’s a word that’s roughly defined as the capability to do multiple things, and it’s a trait for pro football players that a team such as the New Orleans Saints places a high priority upon.

Late last night after many folks had either settled down for the night or had already gone to sleep, the Black and Gold once again prioritized versatility as a part of their very latest investment in 2020 NFL Free Agency; and gave the receiving game in their high-powered offense an immediate upgrade — with the signing of reputable play-maker and former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

The 33-year old Sanders — who most Saints fans and loyally-devoted Who Dats know best as the wide receiver who was wide open and would have won the Super Bowl for San Francisco a few months ago with a game-winning TD if their QB (Jimmy Garoppolo) hadn’t overthrown the ball to him — agreed to a 2-year, $16 million deal (that can become $19 million with incentives), as first reported by ESPN NFL national beat writer / reporter Josina Anderson.

Originally a former 3rd Round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft out of SMU (Southern Methodist University, located in suburban Dallas, Texas) by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 5-foot-11, 180 pound Bellville, TX native is still considered to be one of the League’s best players overall at the WR position; because of his notable ability to fill multiple roles as both a “slot” receiver and a flanker (which is commonly known by the more modern football term  “Z” receiver).

His addition now will give the Saints a clear-cut #2 WR heading into the upcoming 2020 NFL Season who can be the complementary player to All-Pro #1 WR Michael Thomas that they have lacked, and as an added bonus he has a reputation throughout the NFL as one of the wide receiver position’s better route runners.

Clearly, Sanders’ pure talent along with that versatility will give New Orleans an immediate upgrade, and he also would appear to be a perfect fit while giving the Saints offense another “weapon” for QB Drew Brees to throw to; in a role similar to the one previously filled in head coach Sean Payton‘s offensive scheme by former players such as Lance Moore and Willie Snead.

But as noted by New Orleans analyst Nick Underhill: perhaps the best thing about the Saints signing Sanders is his knack for creating yards after the catch, and his ability to make things happen whenever the ball is in his hands.

Underhill adds that in their most-recent past few seasons, the Saints have lacked a “play maker” at the WR position other than Thomas — and last night’s signing will now change that moving forward for the next couple of years.

Prior to that memorable play in the Super Bowl a few months ago, Saints fans also very likely remember Sanders from the game that the Black and Gold played last season back in Week #14 at the Superdome, when he burned the Saints for a 75-yard TD completion and altogether caught seven passes for 157 yards against them in a wild and crazy, last-minute 48-46 victory by San Francisco.

But speaking even further to his “play-maker” capability was when in that very same game, Sanders also completed a 35-yard TD pass to 49ers RB Raheem Mostert, that changed the momentum of that entire game and ultimately helped San Francisco earn the top overall #1 seed in the NFC Playoffs.

Sanders actually had started the season last year with the Denver Broncos, the team that he played for the past 6 seasons and won Super Bowl 50 following the 2015 NFL Season. Sanders was one of the top receivers for Denver that year, which was the final season in the career of then-Broncos starting QB (and now Hall of Famer and NFL ‘living legend”) Peyton Manning.

But he was traded by Denver after Week #6 of the 2019 regular season to San Francisco, and ended up playing a grand total of 10 games for the 49ers as he tallied 36 catches for 502 yards and three touchdowns. Sanders then also started all of San Francisco’s Playoff games as well.

Now about to head into what will be his 11th season of his NFL career, Sanders started off his early time in the professional ranks with Pittsburgh, where he played for his first 4 seasons and got to play in the Super Bowl as a rookie when the Steelers were beaten in Super Bowl XLV (45) by the Green Bay Packers.

Sanders is only just 1 of 7 different players in NFL history, to appear in a Super Bowl with 3 different teams (Steelers, Broncos, and 49ers). Later on in the year he’ll now be trying to become the very first player to do it with 4 different teams, when he puts on the Black and Gold uniform for the Saints.

Overall in 144 career regular-season games (104 starts), Sanders has caught a grand total of 601 catches on 982 “targets”, for 7,893 yards (a 13.1 yards per catch average) and 42 touchdowns.

Those are solid numbers for a player who essentially has always been the #2 WR for all of the teams that he’s played on, but yet has still managed to carve out his own particular “niche” as a player that can utilize his athleticism and unique skill-set to fill different roles within an offense, to thrive as a reputable play-maker that NFL defenses are forced to respect and be prepared for.

And now not all that long after they were heavily criticized for bringing back one of their own (Saints starting left guard Andrus Peat, who earlier yesterday re-signed with New Orleans for 5 years at $57 million), Saints Front Office Management clearly demonstrated to everyone that they are very serious about making an “all-in” effort to win a Super Bowl with Drew Brees before he retires.

Undoubtedly, the signing of Sanders should definitely become one of the key components for the Saints to remain successful and continue to be a top Super Bowl contender going forward; that could make that long-standing team goal that’s still yet to be achieved, finally become a reality.

Obviously it won’t be easy, especially now with all of the other teams within the NFC South (particularly with the signing of Tom Brady by Tampa Bay) poised to challenge the Black and Gold for division supremacy.

But after having been rumored to be considering teaming up and joining Brady with the Buccaneers, the Saints were able to swoop in late last night and signed Sanders for their own purposes.

Now they’ve achieved one of their major goals of this off-season, by bringing in a player that can finally take the pressure off of Thomas. and as a versatile play-maker will give the Saints offense another “weapon” for Brees.

If nothing else: the Saints made a “great catch”….

Barry Hirstius is a semi-retired journalist, who has worked as a sports editor and columnist. Barry is a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the Saints while attending games as a young boy during the early 1970’s, at the old Tulane Stadium. He is also the proud Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity. Follow him on Twitter: @BarryHirstius

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