When the Denver Broncos traded their two-time Pro Bowl wideout Emmanuel Sanders to the San Francisco 49ers ahead of the trade deadline in late October, it seemed to be the best solution for all concerned.
GM John Elway received third- and fourth-round draft picks in exchange for Sanders and freed up significant salary cap dollars that can be rolled over into the 2020 league year. Meanwhile, the star pass-catcher got a fresh start on a winning team.
At the time of the trade, there were rumblings of a rift growing between the Broncos and Sanders, which Elway himself acknowledged as the receiver headed out the door.
"When we looked at it, Emmanuel had issues and we had issues," Elway said via conference call on October 22 following the trade. "That is why it was a good time for us to go [in] different directions, for Emmanuel to go in a different direction and for us to go in a different direction. With that being said, we were able to get the value that we thought was fair. That is why we decided to make the deal.”
Sanders has gone on to provide a real boost for his new team and has adapted well to his role within Kyle Shanahan’s explosive Niners offense. It’s been a long-held belief that a degree of 'beef' still exists between the receiver and his former team over how his stay with the Broncos ended.
Judging by the former Super Bowl champ's remarks during his appearance on 104.3 The Fan's flagship show The Drive on Wednesday, Sanders' issues with the Broncos were focused on what he perceived to be a generational gap of sorts, which resulted in more of an old-fashioned coaching approach at Dove Valley.
“When I first showed up, you know obviously Vic [Fangio], he’s kinda older. Vic is kinda, like I said, on the older side in terms of his approach,” Sanders stated. "And then I get here and right when I walk into the 49ers team meeting, I hear this hip-hop song called 'Hot'. It's probably one of the hottest songs out. And I'm just like, 'What's going on?' Then Kyle [Shanahan] walks into the room and he has on a pair of Yeezys, and I'm like, 'This is totally different.' This is a different environment."
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Fangio made waves during training camp for not allowing on-field music during warm-ups. Music during warm-ups is customary around the NFL during training camp. We knew Fangio's anti-music approach rubbed some players wrong initially, and it sounds like Sanders might have been one of them.
Sanders hinted that his relationship with Fangio in Denver never really got off to the best of starts, which could go a long way toward explaining what the impetus of his training camp brawl with Courtland Sutton might have been, as well as Sanders' rumored tap-out during the Broncos' Week 6 victory over the Tennessee Titans over a questionable injury he sustained just prior to him being traded.
You'd think that by now, Sanders would have moved onto more pressing concerns of trying to win another ring with his new employer. However, on the Denver airwaves, he took a couple more parting shots at the internal operations of the Broncos and NFL teams in general.
“I've been married for going on 10 years and I got two kids of my own, and I feel like sometimes in the NFL, teams treat guys like kids," Sanders said. "That’s one thing I noticed here in the aspect of they treat everybody like grown men. If you care about wanting to be a great player, then we want those kind of guys here. The guys who are going to do it the right way and we don’t have to force them to do it.”
The implication, of course, being that the Broncos were controlling of Sanders and that Denver didn't prioritize winning or acquiring players who want to be great, which came on top of Sanders' comparison between the 'older' Fangio and the Yeezys-wearing younger, more vibrant Shanahan.
While a degree of the discord between Sanders and the Broncos is apocryphal, the comments made by Von Miller about the trade back in October, in retrospect, appear to confirm the veracity of the disconnect that existed between player and team pre-trade.
“We want people that want to get it right," Miller said in the immediate aftermath of the Sanders trade. "We want people that want to get it right with us. We want people who want to be Broncos."
Sanders clearly feels that his style is a much better fit on the West Coast within Shanahan's team culture, that much is obvious. Most of that likely has to do with the fact that the Niners are winning, which has to be like manna from Football Heaven for Sanders, after wandering the 'World of Suck' desert in Denver for the previous three-and-a-half years.
Feeling salty about his departure is natural — sour grapes are to be expected. How it leaves Sanders' legacy as a popular former Super Bowl champion in the eyes of Broncos fans and even his former teammates and coaches, is now anyone’s guess.
UPDATE: Sanders took to Twitter to address some of the questions that have arisen in Denver since his appearance on The Fan.