BUFFALO, N.Y. — Emmanuel Sanders had his eyes on Buffalo long before the veteran receiver signed with the Bills in free agency this week.
“I used to sit on my off-days on a Tuesday, I’d grab my iPad, and I would watch the Buffalo Bills, the coach’s film, and just the routes they were running,” Sanders said during a half-hour video conference on Friday, recalling his weekly routine while playing for the New Orleans Saints last season.
He liked what he saw, be it from quarterback Josh Allen’s scrambling ability to the franchise-record setting numbers Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs-led group of receivers produced last year.
“You’re seeing Josh run around and rip the ball 60 yards down the field, it was just exciting to watch,” the 11th-year player said. “It’s a reason why everybody is starting to talk about the Bills because they’re gaining traction.”
It’s no surprise, when Sanders made an immediate bee-line for Buffalo the moment the Bills expressed interest after he was released following one season with the Saints.
“Who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?” he said.
Despite having little money to spend in free agency, the Bills regarded Sanders as a capable — and less expensive — receiver to replace John Brown, who was cut in order for Buffalo to afford re-signing three key starters, including linebacker Matt Milano.
Though Sanders, who turned 34 this week, is 3 years older than Brown, the Bills believe he can play a similar role in a pass-first offense that relies on receivers having the versatility to line up at numerous positions.
Sanders also brings a winning pedigree to a team coming off a year in which it finished 13-3 and reached the AFC championship game for the first time in 27 years. Sanders has been on three teams which have reached the Super Bowl, and won it in the 2015 season with Denver.
“He’s a guy we’ve tracked for a couple of years. He’s been in winning locker rooms,” coach Sean McDermott said. “He’s had some big-time impressive numbers. Listen, you never want to lose your fastball.”
The fastball McDermott referred to is an offense which set team records with 4,620 yards passing and 40 touchdowns receiving, with Diggs becoming Buffalo’s first player to lead the NFL in both yards receiving and catches.
With Brown gone, Sanders is expected to be part of the mix of Diggs, Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis, who is coming off an impressive rookie season.
Sanders is eager to fill that role especially after getting his first glimpse of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s playbook.
“I was blown away by how he’s taken this offense and put in certain things, certain routes,” he said. “It’s going to be hard for defenses to stop it.”
Sanders is on his fourth team in three years, and coming off a season in which he had 61 catches for 726 yards and five touchdowns. After spending his first four seasons in Pittsburgh, Sanders’ best stretch came when he topped 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first three seasons with Denver from 2014-16.
The Bills failed in at least two previous attempts to add Sanders.
Buffalo was in trade talks with Denver in 2019, before the Broncos dealt the receiver to San Francisco. Last offseason, Sanders turned down the Bills in free agency to instead sign with the Saints, and an opportunity to catch passes from Drew Brees.
The third time proved to be the charm for a player who is reunited with Beasley, after the two were college teammates at SMU. And Sanders had always been impressed during games in Buffalo by how ardent the Bills fan base was, even when the team was losing.
He was even more impressed with Buffalo upon his arrival this week, with fans welcoming him to town and wishing him a happy birthday.
Allen’s development into becoming one of the league’s top passers was a tipping point.
“He’s not the typical stand-in-the-pocket delivery. It’s fun to watch, like that Patrick Mahomes, Russel Wilson type,” Sanders said, referring to the qualities he sees in the Chiefs and Seahawks starters. “For me to be on a team with a guy like that, that’s special. I’m looking forward to it.”
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