It's difficult to predict what might happen with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. In an ideal world, the San Francisco 49ers would love to have the veteran back. However, their salary cap situation may preclude that.

After years of enjoying a significant salary-cap surplus, things have changed. The team has less salary cap space — an estimated $13 million right now — and has future money earmarked toward extensions for key players like tight end George Kittle and defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

Sanders isn't the only 49ers player scheduled to become a free agent, either. Decisions need to be made on others like defensive end Arik Armstead and safety Jimmie Ward. Then you have restricted free agents like receiver Kendrick Bourne and running back Matt Breida.

One analyst, Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network, believes that, in that ideal world, Sanders would love to return to San Francisco for another run at a Super Bowl.

"Sanders wants to stay with the Niners and San Francisco wants him back," Pauline recently wrote. "If the contract is not too exorbitant, it's very likely Sanders ends up back with the Niners."

Two younger receivers on the team, Bourne and Deebo Samuel, have already made their opinions clear, campaigning for Sanders' return.


"I enjoyed this season," Sanders said during the week after the Super Bowl. "I love the Niners organization, so we're going to see what's going to happen."

Sanders will turn 33 in a few weeks but feels he has a lot left to contribute to an NFL squad. He hauled in 66 passes for 869 receiving yards with five touchdowns through 17 regular-season games and 16 starts between the 49ers and Denver Broncos in 2019.

Aside from his statistics, Sanders also contributes a veteran presence to the receivers room.

"Ever since he's been here, you can see kind of things changed a little bit," Samuel said of Sanders before Super Bowl LIV. "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."

Another person who would love to see Sanders back in red and gold is head coach Kyle Shanahan.

"I would love (more) than anything to have Emmanuel back, bad," Shanahan said this week, "but we've got to see how that all plays out, too."

H/t to Matthew Barr for the find.