GREEN BAY, Wis. – By far the most accomplished receiver on the free-agent market, Emmanuel Sanders has signed with the New Orleans Saints.
As ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter noted on Friday night in reporting a two-year deal that’s worth $16 million (and perhaps as much as $19 million), the Packers were among Sanders’ suitors. A source told Packer Central that the interest in Sanders was “real,” even though Sanders turned 33 on Tuesday and the team is short on cap space. According to OverTheCap.com, the Packers have about $14.5 million in cap space. Ken Ingalls, a self-professed salary-cap junkie who provides strong insight on Twitter, has the Packers with about $12.5 million in cap space. That doesn’t tell the whole story, though, since there will be a 10-man draft class to sign and space must be left for in-season transactions. Signing Sanders might have required some tricky accounting to accomplish but that does not appear to have been a large obstacle. In fact, the Saints have less cap space than the Packers, according to Over The Cap.
Video: The latest on Packers free agency
The Packers faced Sanders three times last season – once with Denver in the regular season, once with San Francisco in the regular season and once with San Francisco in the playoffs. Jaire Alexander generally drew that matchup – and won that matchup. With Denver, Sanders caught 2-of-5 passes for 10 yards. In the regular-season game, Sanders caught his only target for 15 yards. In the NFC Championship Game, when the Niners barely had to throw the ball, he was not targeted.
“The first thing you notice is how explosive he is,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said before the regular-season game against San Francisco. “We knew that from really a long time ago. But he’s really explosive. He pretty much didn’t miss a beat going to San Francisco and was able to get implemented into their scheme in a hurry.”
At the trade deadline, the Broncos sent Sanders and a fifth-round pick to the 49ers for third- and fourth-round choices. The Packers presumably were interested but not at losing a couple draft picks for a half-season rental.
"I think as we got through the first part of the season before the trade deadline, we were looking to see if it would make sense to add another explosive offensive player," general manager Brian Gutekunst said after the season. "The opportunities to do that, there were not many, and the ones that were not particularly sound value, in my opinion."
In 10 games with the Niners, Sanders caught 36 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns; in 17 games, Sanders caught 66 passes. A third-round pick in 2010, Sanders has 601 receptions for 7,893 yards and 42 scores in 10 season. Of 109 receivers who were targeted at least 32 times last year, Sanders ranked seventh in drop percentage (1.5 percent; one drop).
In six career games against the Packers while with Pittsburgh, Denver and San Francisco, Sanders caught 9-of-17 passes for 71 yards and one touchdown.