The 2020 Buffalo Bills looked to have a formidable receiving corps led by Stefon Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley. As Meat Loaf famously sang, “two out of three ain’t bad,” and the Bills pushed forward without Brown for much of the season thanks to a litany of injuries for the veteran wideout.
Thanks to Brown’s high cap number and his injury-plagued 2020 season, it came as little surprise when Buffalo granted the veteran wideout his release prior to March. Buffalo could have gone into the 2021 season by replacing Brown with Gabriel Davis, who filled in admirably for Brown last year. General manager Brandon Beane decided to add to the team’s strong receiving corps instead.
In today’s edition of “90 players in 90 days,” we profile that veteran addition.
Name: Emmanuel Sanders
Height/Weight: 5’11” 180 lbs
Age: 34 (35 on 3/17/2022)
Acquired: Signed with Buffalo on 3/17/2021 (talk about a nice birthday present!)
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Sanders inked a one-year deal worth $6 million this offseason. That contract contains a voidable year, meaning that the Bills will owe Sanders $1.375 million next year, which is a prorated portion of his $2.75 million signing bonus. For the 2021 season, Sanders carries a salary cap hit of $4,616,176. Buffalo would be responsible for a $5.9 million dead-cap charge if he were to be released or traded prior to the start of the regular season. His entire base salary ($2.8 million) becomes guaranteed Week 1 since he’s a vested veteran.
2020 Recap: Sanders played for the New Orleans Saints last year, and he was expected to give future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees a great option outside of star wideout Michael Thomas. While Sanders did have a productive year, leading all Saints wideouts in receptions and receiving yards, the offense never worked as intended. Thomas was injured for much of the year, and Father Time finally caught up to Brees, who also missed time due to injury. Sanders caught 61 passes for 726 yards and five touchdowns, which represented his worst statistical season since an injury-plagued 2017 campaign. Sanders was targeted 12 times in the playoffs, making eight catches for 51 yards in two games.
Positional outlook: Sanders profiles as Buffalo’s WR2 this year, working as the nominal replacement for John Brown. Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, and Isaiah McKenzie all appear to be roster locks along with Sanders. Jake Kumerow seems to be ahead in the battle for the sixth receiver spot, with Duke Williams, Lance Lenoir, Brandon Powell, Tanner Gentry, Marquez Stevenson, and Isaiah Hodgins
2021 Offseason: Sanders has participated in all offseason work to date. He missed some practice time earlier in August thanks to a foot injury, but he has since returned to practice. He did not play in the team’s preseason opener.
2021 Season outlook: Sanders can run as an outside receiver or as a slot receiver, and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will certainly put that versatility to use. Even though Sanders is easily the oldest player on Buffalo’s offense, there is no reason to believe that he’s lost much speed or agility to time. The dip in his statistical output last year coincided with a downturn for the Saints’ offense as a whole, so that doesn’t worry me much. If Sanders can stay on the field more than Brown did last year, he should easily surpass Smoke’s statistical output from 2020. Expecting somewhere between 55 and 70 catches out of Sanders for around 700 yards is a good baseline for the veteran, who gives quarterback Josh Allen another speedy player who can beat any coverage thrown his way.