Rather than adding a dynamic receiving weapon via free agency or the draft last spring, the Green Bay Packers instead relied on development from their options within. As the 2019 season came to a close, it became obvious that the Packers could not choose the same route for a second consecutive offseason.
As free agency approaches, there are opportunities to help the Packers’ passing game with a variety of wide receivers and tight ends on the open market. However, perhaps none would offer the immediate help as much as Emmanuel Sanders.
Sanders does not necessarily fit the Packers’ age preference at the position, entering the 2020 season at 33 years of old. However, that level of experience and professionalism could be just what the Packers need in their receiving corps, where the average years of NFL experience was under three years last season. Furthermore, Sanders has proven effective in multiple offenses, earning Pro Bowl nods with both Pittsburgh and Denver before rapidly adding a game-changing presence to the San Francisco offense when dealt prior to the trade deadline last season. Green Bay also was rumored to have made calls about the wily veteran Sanders near the halfway point and general manager Brian Gutekunst expressed that he had interest in adding an explosive receiving option before the deadline.
Perhaps the still-explosive Sanders was never an option for the Packers, considering the price the 49ers paid (third- and fourth- round picks) to acquire him. However, he could represent a valuable commodity for the price now, with Spotrac currently estimating Sanders to sign a two-year, $20 million contract. A short-term deal for Sanders could give Green Bay flexibility while the team adds another weapon through the draft and waits-and-sees on third-year players Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown.
The Packers wouldn’t need Sanders to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player at this stage of his career, but any help he could provide in taking defensive attention off of Davante Adams would be beneficial. While Sanders could line up outside for the Packers, his ability to step in and be a threat from the slot could be even more needed. Sanders’ route-running and quickness from that position could open up the middle of the field in a way the Packers sorely lacked last season. Although Aaron Rodgers did not utilize that area of the field very much in 2019, the Packers didn’t have a receiver other than Adams that was reliable enough to create separation repeatedly. Sanders’ ability in that realm made him highly effective for San Francisco and would help him do the same for Green Bay.
But that isn’t to say that Sanders can’t help along the sidelines and stretch the field deep. He didn’t show many signs of slowing down, compiling 11 catches of more than 20 yards and three of more than 40 yards. Sanders also possesses some of the surest hands in the league, dropping just two passes in 97 targets last season, and that is something that would gain Rodgers’ trust quickly. While injuries and age limited Randall Cobb in his last seasons with Green Bay, the element he brought to the Packers’ offseason when healthy was felt heavily when completely gone. Sanders, who is perhaps a better route-runner than Cobb, could fill that type of receiving role once again.
There is still a very real chance that Sanders never makes it out of San Francisco. 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan recently noted his interest in retaining that piece of his offense, but the team has other expiring contracts to consider. If Sanders does explore outside interests, Green Bay would be wise to look into adding one of the more experienced, complete receivers on the market this offseason. And one that could be counted on to adapt and contribute immediately to a contending Packers team in 2020.