After Demaryius Thomas Trade, What’s Next For Sanders?

Emmanuel Sanders
Denver Broncos Win Receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is gone, traded to the Houston Texans. He was traded for a fourth-round pick and a swap of seventh-rounders. It’s the biggest shock to the receiving corps since the addition of Emmanuel Sanders in 2014. It has been an emotional week for the receiver, admittedly brought to tears because of the news. The trade has emotionally affected Sanders, but how will it impact his future as a Denver Bronco?

After Demaryius Thomas Trade, What’s Next For Emmanuel Sanders?

Sanders Gets The Spotlight

Sanders, 31, was the number two receiver behind Thomas before his departure. After his exit, Sanders will be taking over the duties of lead receiver for the rest of the season, as he is the most experienced receiver in the locker room, and currently playing exceptionally well. As a result, he should be getting more attention from quarterback Case Keenum, but also that of the very best cornerbacks in the league. That being said, due to his age and the rapidly improving Courtland Sutton, Sanders will likely fall back into the number two role for the team next year, possibly before Week One.

Sutton’s Ascendence

Both in their early 30s, the age of the Thomas-Sanders duo was the catalyst to the drafting of Courtland Sutton in the second round of the Draft this year. Sutton was drafted to be the eventual number-one receiver and has shown to be just that. He seems to always catch the ball or force a pass interference call when targeted. As the third receiver on the depth chart, Sutton has 324 yards and two touchdowns through eight games and is currently on pace for about six or seven hundred yards this season as the third receiver. However, now the number two, Sutton has a good chance to get close to 1000 yards this season with eight games to go.

If Sutton does what he’s expected to, Sanders should lose his new promotion by early 2019.

2018: Sanders Versus Thomas

Before the trade, Thomas and Sanders were expected to make a combined $27 million in 2019. With both receivers in the twilight of their careers, that’s simply too much to pay. Especially when you throw in an up-and-coming rookie in the midst. With Thomas gone, Sanders will be the only receiver drawing a big cap hit next year, making $12.9 million.

With the addition of Sutton, it seemed that one of the two receivers had to go to make room for the next generation. Going into 2018, it was clear that both receivers weren’t going to make it to 2019. Therefore, 2018 has been a de facto competition between Sanders and Thomas. With Sanders now the winner and Thomas gone, he should feel safe that he will remain a Bronco for the rest of 2018 and at least the first half of the 2019 season.

2019: Sanders Versus Hamilton?

After falling back into his native role as a number two receiver, Sanders will now have to hold off DaeSean Hamilton. It should be Sanders’ job to lose but if Hamilton were to show a lot of promise and begin to push Sanders for his position on the depth chart early in the season, he could be in danger of being traded in Week Eight in the same way that Thomas was.

Sanders 2019 Trade?

The Broncos would likely not be willing to spend 12.9 million on a number three wide receiver. So, if Sanders were to lose his job to Hamilton, the Broncos would want out. However, it could be extremely difficult to offload a rapidly- aging Sanders with $12.9 million due during the season, with an expiring contract. The odds would be that the Broncos would only be able to get a sixth or seventh round pick for him so the idea of trading him might not be logical.

No matter how badly next season goes for Sanders, he won’t get cut outright. It would only save the Broncos about 10 million dollars (due to dead cap) and then they would be in the same position that they were in before drafting Sutton and Hamilton: lacking a reliable third receiver. Additionally, in the event that Sanders falls apart, his expensive contract would only last for the rest of the year. The Broncos could simply cut ties with him at that point and find someone to take his place or re-sign him to a team-friendly veteran deal.

Finally, while there is a decent chance that Sanders could decide that he no longer wants to be with a Thomas-less locker room and asks to be traded, it would seem to be antithetical to a receiver that has found new life since the arrival of Case Keenum.

If Sutton does what he’s expected to, Sanders should lose his new promotion by early 2019.

Beyond 2019

In the end, Sanders is now the Broncos number-one receiver while Sutton prepares to become the leader in 2019. After falling back into his role as the number two receiver, a possibly frustrated Sanders will have the chance to ask to be traded. If he doesn’t ask to be traded, he will have to hold off Hamilton for the rest of the season. At the end of the 2019 season, Sanders will be free to do what he wants. He could retire as a Bronco, sign a team-friendly contract for another year, or try to make some money and bounce around the league. No matter what he decides to do, Sanders knows that the next few years will be much different than the previous four.