Bellville native and now-former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders signed a free-agent deal with the New Orleans Saints Friday night worth $16 million over two years.
The reigning NFC South champions finished 13-3 last year, fourth in the NFL in points per game (28.6), seventh in passing yards per game (265.2) and ninth in total yards per game (373.9).
It was that “pass-happy offense” that drew Sanders to The Big Easy, he said on a conference call Sunday afternoon.
“I’ve been a fan of Sean Payton and Drew Brees for a very long time,” he said. “I’ve seen them do it at a high level for a very long time and I’m excited to join (the team). Obviously, being a receiver in this offense is something special. It reminds me of 2014 when I linked up with Peyton (Manning) and we were passing the ball, slinging the ball and it was a pass-happy offense. I’m excited to get back into a system like this. Hopefully (I’ll) do what I did in 2014 when I had one of my best years.”
Of course, the proximity to where he grew up also played a factor.
“Feels good to be close to home,” Sanders said. “One thing I’m excited about is putting on that uniform, black and gold are some of my favorite colors. I'm excited to represent for my hometown, I know there's a lot of kids that look up to me as a role model. To be able to play for the Saints, which is one of the closest teams where a lot of people pay attention to because of the high-powered offense, is a blessing and I'm thankful for the opportunity.”
The 2005 Bellville High School graduate was named team MVP and the Tri-County Offensive Player of the Year his senior year following his 913 yards from scrimmage on 80 touches.
“As a high school student at Bellville, Emmanuel was a four-letter athlete in football, basketball, baseball and track,” Mindy Blankemeyer wrote in a Sealy News feature posted on Feb. 3, 2016. “He was a first-team All-District performer at running back, wide receiver and safety. As a senior, he rushed for 499 yards with six touchdowns and had 24 catches for 414 yards. On defense, he recorded 49 tackles and three interceptions … He earned seven All-District honors (in total) at Bellville.”
It was also in that feature story that Sanders’ sisters spoke about how close-knit the family is and Emmanuel relayed a conversation he had with some family members at the beginning of the free-agency period.
“One of the first people I talked to was my grandmother,” Sanders said Sunday afternoon. “She called me and my aunt was on the phone, it was when free agency had started. She said, ‘We’re praying you go to New Orleans.’ The Texans had opportunity, the Cowboys maybe, but she loves that team (the Saints). She loves Drew Brees, she loves Sean Payton, she loves the offense and she loves to watch them play.
“When I called her and told her (I signed) she was so excited,” he continued. “Not only that, but she was excited because they can drive to the game if they want. I don’t know how much of a distance it is, but I know last year when we played against San Fran, we had 15 family members drive up, so it can’t be that long of a drive. That’s pretty cool to be back down South and be close to my family as well.”
It was in Austin County where he developed his talents and made a name for himself and he noted the like-minded approach to the game that he looks forward to being a part of.
“I feel like I have a dog-type mentality,” Sanders said. “I feel like the Saints have a lot of dog-type mentality as well when I watch Drew Brees and how he executes. He loves to win and I can tell the way he plays. Michael Thomas, he plays with so much passion. I think that dog mentality and you combine that with a lot of love for the organization and team, I feel like that DNA right there is capable of winning games and winning it all.”
That reason, above all else, brought him to a now-stacked NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers also making big splashes this free agency.
“I think ultimately the goal is to try to bring a Super Bowl to New Orleans,” Sanders said. “That’s the reason I signed that deal because I have a great chance at winning another Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints.”
Sanders was drafted out of SMU by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. He went to the Broncos in 2014 and the next season earned a ring in Super Bowl 50. Midway through last season was traded to the 49ers.