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Emmanuel Sanders is about to start one of the biggest seasons in his career. At 31 years old, Sanders’ time in the league is limited and how the season goes will effectively set the stage for how he ends his time in the NFL. If the season goes well, the wide receiver could earn another solid contract and possibly retire as a Bronco. If the season goes poorly, Sanders could find himself bouncing around the league, taking things one year at a time. Between the injury last season, lessening production, his current contract situation, the newly acquired wide receivers, and the fact that he will be staying in Denver this season, the writing is on the wall for the 31-year-old veteran.

2018 Season Will Be Defining For Emmanuel Sanders

Break A Leg!

It is no secret that older players are more susceptible to injury than younger players. Most know that those injuries can snowball into a force that can effectively end careers. In 2017, Sanders sustained two injuries on the same ankle, missing games as a result of both injuries. The first injury was a sprain and occurred in the third quarter of Week 6, causing him to miss two games. Second, in Week 15 against the Colts, Sanders reinjured the same ankle, although this injury was a bone bruise. The second injury ended his season.

If Sanders were to hurt his right ankle for the third time since the start of 2016, Denver would likely begin the process of finding someone healthier to become the permanent replacement.

What About The Numbers?

Sanders’ production has slipped year-over-year since 2014. He scored nine touchdowns in 2016 with 1,404 receiving yards. Compare that to 2017, where he racked up 555 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Based off of those numbers alone, it seems that Sanders has fallen off of a cliff. This season will be Sanders’ last chance as a Bronco to prove that this is not the case.

Granted, he has some pretty good reasons for the disappointing numbers. Namely, the fact that Denver’s quarterback situation has been eclectic and messy over the last three seasons. However, with Case Keenum under center this year, Sanders’ play will be the catalyst for his success or failure in 2018.

Contractually Obligated

The wide receiver is in year three of a four-year contract that features an early-exit clause for the Broncos in 2019. Before 2019, the dead cap cost has made the idea of trading or cutting Sanders a financially damaging proposition. Instead of spending 12 million dollars to cut the ex-Steeler, the cost to cut would only be two million, a much more inviting expense. If Sanders plays badly this season, he could be a free agent in less than eight months. If he plays decently but not amazingly, the Broncos could still use the wide receiver as trade bait.

Since Sanders’ contract is up in 2020, he becomes a tantalizing commodity in 2019 to other teams. The team that trades for him would effectively get a receiver with a good chance to produce at a high level. However, if he were to fail to live up to expectations after that season, he automatically becomes a free agent anyway so the team wouldn’t be on the hook for a long time.

New Blood

However, why would Denver trade Sanders even if he performs well enough to start? Denver has some shiny new toys to play with in Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton. Fresh from the draft, these players offer a level of potential and longevity that could prove to be more enticing than a solid but aging starter. As Sanders is the second string while Sutton and Hamilton are expected to take the third and fourth-string spots, Sanders would be the first receiver replaced if Sutton or Hamilton were to impress to move up the draft chart.

Knowledge Is Power

Sanders seems to be well aware that his performance this season will shape the remainder of his time in the League.

Number 10 has decided to stay in Denver this offseason for the first time. According to 9news, Sanders is staying to ensure that he has a “laser-sharp focus” when the season starts. He has also been quoted as saying that he’s “got something that [he’s] got to go out to prove this year and if [he doesn’t] prove it to the Broncos, [he’ll] be proving it to some other team.”

If the season goes poorly, Sanders could find himself bouncing around the league, taking things one year at a time.

Sanders knows what is at stake this year. However, knowing is only half the battle. It is what he does with this knowledge that will determine his future. Will the ex-Steeler become an ex-Bronco as well? Only time will tell.

Ian Van Roy

Author Ian Van Roy

Ian is a hardcore Denver Broncos fan. He spends his Sundays watching the games and follows the team closely. If Pro Football is on, he is watching it.

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