San Francisco 49ers made mistake letting Emmanuel Sanders leave, says Rob Ryan

It’s third-and-10 with 1:40 of the fourth quarter remaining with the San Francisco 49ers down 24-20 to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

Emmanuel Sanders pulls a move to cut inside on a deep route waiting for what could be a game-winning touchdown throw-and-catch, only to see Jimmy Garoppolo’s pass agonisingly evade his out-stretched arms.

Had that play been completed, as it probably should have been, Sanders might well have been gearing up for another year in San Francisco. Instead, he is preparing to help the New Orleans Saints in their pursuit of a championship after being allowed to hit free agency this offseason.

Two-time Super Bowl winner Rob Ryan believes the 49ers made a mistake by not bringing back the 33-year-old, who arrived from the Denver Broncos in October in exchange for a third and fourth-round draft pick in 2020.

“He’s a really talented guy,” Ryan said, speaking on Inside the Huddle. “When we were coming out of the Super Bowl the thing I saw was a player who was just painfully hurt by losing that game.

“If anybody from the 49ers brass saw that face and saw that determination on that kid they would be the dumbest people ever to let him go because that guy wanted it more than any of his teammates did and that’s a third and a fourth-round pick for him.

“I think they made a terrible mistake there. I really do. They made a good decision trading (DeForest) Buckner (to the Indianapolis Colts) for a first and keeping (Arik) Armstead, but I think that’s a terrible decision on their part on a team that needs receivers.”

Sanders’ departure contributed to an unpredictable opening to free agency as the Houston Texans traded away star receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the Los Angeles Rams released running back Todd Gurley and the Carolina Panthers moved on from quarterback Cam Newton.

The veteran, who won Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos, had 36 catches for 502 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games for the 49ers last season.

Ryan added: “He never dropped that ball in the end zone to win that Super Bowl for them, the quarterback never got it to him. He got open and he could have been the hero again in the Super Bowl for that last throw that he ran a perfect route on.

“I think that was one of the dumber things, there’s been some pretty dumb things out there lately (in free agency), but that was definitely in the top five, those guys letting Emmanuel Sanders go.

“He provides leadership, he gets open still and he gives them a real weapon, which they dearly need as receiver, not just the tight end and the running backs.”

One man who can vouch for not only the talent but also the work ethic the Saints will be gaining is Jeff Reinebold, who was Sanders’ wide receivers coach at SMU.

“I know that hurt him deeply, you could see the pain and the agony in his face,” said Reinebold.

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