Emmanuel Sanders chose Drew Brees last year, but he's thrilled to be with Josh Allen now
Emmanuel Sanders readily admits, and in many ways accepts, that he’s never been someone who has been considered in the upper echelon of the NFL’s wide receiver group.
As he said Friday during his introductory Zoom call with western New York reporters, the newest Buffalo Bills wideout, “I’ve never been one of those guys who breaks the bank with my contracts.”
And guess what? He wouldn’t trade anything about how his career has played out, not when you consider that he has been on the receiving end of passes thrown by three first ballot Hall of Famers, and has played in three Super Bowls, winning one.
“In doing that,” he said of never being offered one of the mega deals we now see wide receivers signing, “I've been able to play a long time and I've been able to play with some great teams and some great organizations. This is just the path that God chose me, but definitely look at the quarterbacks from Ben Roethlisberger to Peyton Manning to Drew Brees, went to the Super Bowl with Jimmy Garoppolo, so I've been fortunate enough to play with a lot of great players on a lot of great teams.”
Next up on his list: Josh Allen and the Bills, and he can’t wait to get it started.
Sanders said he spent part of the plane ride to Buffalo to sign his contract Thursday watching Allen highlights from last season, and like everyone else, he was impressed by what he saw.
“I'm looking forward to working with Josh Allen as well,” he said. “Just watching the young guy blossom year to year, I'm excited about being part of that process and trying to get him to be the best he can possibly be and myself to be the best that I could possibly be.”
Sanders has already spoken to Allen by phone and he came away amused by the conversation.
“What a great dude, funny dude, he wants to joke and clown around and truthfully I'm here for it, right,” he said. “Football is a game created for kids, it's a kid's dream and sometimes in the National Football League we get away from that, we take it way too serious. Sometimes we just gotta relax and just have fun with it. Speaking with him he was just telling me as a receiver, he wants me to run the route properly but he just wants a receiver that can create separation and I feel I can do that.”
That’s what he’s been doing his entire career.
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Sanders said he’s always been considered a mid-level commodity when he has hit the free agent market dating back to his first toe dip in those waters in 2014. Of course, he never believed he was, saying, “I don’t look at myself as a mid-tier guy because I could still give you the same numbers as the big-time guys in terms of APY (average salary per year), can give you. I've always stayed right there.”
Look at the numbers and they tell the story. In his four seasons with Roethlisberger and the Steelers when he was an occasional starter on teams that featured, at various times, Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, Sanders caught 161 passes for 2,030 yards and 11 TDs.
He joined Manning in Denver in 2015 and had the best year of his career, 101 catches for 1,404 yards and 9 TDs as the Broncos won the Super Bowl. Even after Manning retired, Sanders continued to excel and when he was traded to the 49ers during the 2019 season, he left Denver having caught 404 passes for 5,361 yards and 28 TDs.
After helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl by catching 36 passes for 502 yards in nine games, he had several teams seeking his services when free agency began prior to 2020, including the Bills.
Brandon Beane, who had tried to pry him away from Denver, only to be out-bid at the trading deadline by the 49ers, thought he could get him to Buffalo, but in the end, Sanders made a logical choice in signing with the Saints. Allen was still unproven, as were the Bills as a legitimate Super Bowl contender, which was pretty much the opposite situation in New Orleans with Brees.
“Yeah that was the deciding factor,” Sanders said. “Hearing news that it was probably Drew Brees’ last season and seeing what New Orleans was doing and I wanted to be a part of that. Beane was telling me he tried to get me in a trade in Denver, then he tried to get me last year but he brought over Stefon. And Diggs had over 1,500 yards, had a career year and here I am now.”
Sanders didn’t regret the choice he made, but he did admit that watching what the Bills were doing on offense last season caught his attention.
“On off days on a Tuesday, I’d grab my iPad and I'd watch the Buffalo Bills offense on the coach’s film, just watch the routes they're running, seeing Josh run around, rip the ball 60 yards down the field, 50 yards down the field, it was exciting to watch,” he said. “It's a reason why everybody's starting to talk about the Bills because they're gaining traction. It's one of the reasons why I chose them.”
Also, there were other factors that vaulted Buffalo to the top of his wish list:
The chance to reunite with his old college running mate at SMU, Cole Beasley. “I’m going into my 12th year and I'm playing with one of my college teammates. Me and Cole, I mean we trained together, we grinded together at SMU. We played in a lot of good games and had a lot of yards together. To be back together, it means a lot. He told me there's never been a championship in Buffalo. It literally made my heart smile because I said, ‘Man I would love to see the faces of these people if we can bring a championship to Buffalo and if I can help accomplish that, that'd be amazing.’”
And his financial advisor since 2015 is from Buffalo and has repeatedly lauded his hometown. “As far as the city of Buffalo, I've been here for 24 hours and I can tell you, I already love the city. They’ve got down to earth people here, great people here. My financial advisor, he actually was born and raised here. He always talks about Buffalo.”
Coach Sean McDermott admitted that saying goodbye to players, especially ones like John Brown who helped the Bills win their first AFC East title since 1995 and qualify for their first AFC Championship Game since 1993, was tough to do. But adding such an accomplished and respected veteran like Sanders to fill that void eases some of that pain.
“We’ve got a little bit of a veteran room I would say overall with Diggs, Cole, Emmanuel,” McDermott said. “And then some of our younger guys have been in the league for a couple of years now. We’ve got a pretty experienced wide receiver room. But whenever you have veterans in the room that are alike, the couple that I mentioned here, those guys are always counted on to help the younger guys. Not just by what they say, but more importantly by what they do and how they are on the field as well as off the field.”
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.