Emmanuel Sanders prepares to enter free agency after a mid-season trade sent him from the Denver Broncos to the San Francisco 49ers in late October. The veteran receiver has made it clear that he intends to play his 11th NFL season, and believes he has a lot left in the tank.


The 49ers, however, are in a difficult position. Head coach Kyle Shanahan made it clear on Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that he would love for Sanders to return in 2020. The team has significantly less salary cap space compared to recent years, though, and Sanders isn't the only 49ers player scheduled to hit free agency. Some tough decisions are necessary.

The 49ers are also without significant draft capital. The team has just six draft picks and doesn't currently own a day-two selection, thanks to the trades for Sanders and pass rusher Dee Ford.

Shanahan admits that San Francisco probably would not have reached Super Bowl LIV without Sanders, and nearly won the game thanks to the veteran receiver. He was open on a deep pass in the fourth quarter that might have put victory out of reach for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sanders also added a veteran presence with Super Bowl experience to a young receivers room. That helped players like rookie Deebo Samuel emerge.

"Ever since [Sanders arrived], you can see kind of things changed a little bit," Samuel said before the Super Bowl. "We kind of got like a true vet in the room. He's been in the league so long, played in Super Bowls. Kind of like the knowledge that he passed down to us, we kind of don't have a choice but to listen to him."

Shanahan acknowledged how valuable Sanders' presence was last season, but understands that circumstances have changed.

San Francisco hopes to have receiver Trent Taylor back and hopes Jalen Hurd can finally get on the football field. Shanahan also said he considers Marquise Goodwin to be a valuable player. Of course, he didn't deny the possibility that Goodwin could be traded.

The team could also draft a wideout from a deep rookie receiver class.

"I would love (more) than anything to have Emmanuel back, bad," Shanahan said via Matt Barrows of The Athletic, "but we've got to see how that all plays out, too. When you look at all our young receivers, we've invested in those guys the last two years. And I think it is hard and risky to invest in receivers because it's just a different type of game.

"But I do know that (with) every receiver in our building, a lot of the young guys have had success already. And a lot of the young guys who haven't had success yet, they have the ability to do it. They need to get healthy. They have to get better in some areas. But we have some players in our building."

It seems more likely that the 49ers will allow Sanders to test free agency and gauge his market before making any premature decision on the receiver's potential future in San Francisco.