As Emmanuel Sanders prepares for his third trip to the Super Bowl, he appears to have become more reflective of the events that transpired near the NFL trade deadline this past season that precipitated his move to San Francisco. Back in late October when the Denver Broncos traded him to the Niners, he was already more than thankful for a change of scenery and landing with a contender.
That fresh start contrasted greatly when juxtaposed against the rumors that had swirled around the Broncos' camp that Sanders had checked out on the team and that many in the organization were glad to see him depart. Sanders waited until early January to broach his version of the back story on Denver's 104.3 the FAN.
“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 told Darren McKee, Tyler Polumbus and Nick Ferguson of The Drive. "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.”
Much of the success of any NFL player comes by finding the right environment, the right fit, and conditions at just the perfect time. For Sanders, the modern approach taken in establishing a relaxed culture used by Niners' head coach Kyle Shanahan struck a chord with him — much more so than the old school approach taken by Denver's Vic Fangio, as exemplified by how Shanahan dressed when at the team facility.
“I can’t wait to get home and tell my wife that the head coach is wearing Yeezys, man,” Sanders said playfully back in October. “That’s cool, man, this is one cool coach.”
What also emerged was a conflict of new vs. old school strategies that splits many NFL players when it comes down to where and who they want to suit up for. That includes Sanders' new teammate and star cornerback Richard Sherman, who revealed on Monday why he was so keen to join the Shanahan revolution in San Francisco, particularly when he had a more lucrative offer from Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions.
“I have fun. I like music at practice," Sherman told David Lombardi of The Athletic. "I like to hang out and be relaxed at meetings. I don’t like the stressful environment in football. [The Lions] condition every day after practice. My body isn’t built to run all day and night. I’ll be prepared, but I don’t have to be run into the ground."
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Much of what Sherman said mirrors how Sanders felt during the dying embers of his stay in Denver. Simply allowing veteran players time to relax and enjoy their job is often an entirely alien concept to old-school coaches who might be new to the job but are hell-bent on appearing to be fair and consistent with all their players, regardless of rank and experience.
It only serves to further emphasize how different the cultures would have been in Denver had GM John Elway opted to appoint Shanahan as Gary Kubiak's successor, instead of Vance Joseph in January of 2017 — a choice that consequently set off the chain of events that resulted in Fangio being at the helm.
Pouring over revisionist history is not something the Broncos or their former star receiver want to do at this point, especially with last fall's trade appearing to be a mutually beneficial success. Sanders, for one, is in a relaxed mode ahead of his big game and was keen to stress that things worked out the best for both sides, considering the Broncos received third- and fourth-round draft picks in exchange in the trade.
“For the Broncos, they’re kind of in a rebuilding stage with a lot of young guys and here I am, 10 years in the league, ready to be a free agent,” Emmanuel reflected during his Super Bowl LIV media day. “I think it was best for the Broncos to trade me for the draft picks and try and build. And for me, being on my last couple of legs in the NFL and trying to attain another Super Bowl ring, it was good for me.”
It’s never good to part on bad terms in the NFL, especially when another new destination might just be around the corner in free agency. Sanders' decision to keep all his options open could even be regarded as not slamming any potential doors shut.
Armed with extra picks later in the 2020 draft, Elway might not have to wait long to find Sanders' long-term replacement in Denver. Dynamic wideouts like Alabama's duo of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III have been commonly mocked to Denver by national draftniks.
As the Broncos truly move on from their former receiver who helped them win their third Lombardi Trophy, it’s good to see that any bad blood that might have existed has been washed away — at least on Sanders' part. If Sanders can put one over the Kansas City Chiefs on Super Bowl Sunday, he might even return to being firmly in the fan-favorite ranks within Broncos Country.