Head coach Kyle Shanahan badly wants Emmanuel Sanders back with the San Francisco 49ers, crediting much of this past season's Super Bowl run to the veteran wide receiver. The coach knows, though, that you never get everything you desire in the NFL, and there's a real possibility that Sanders plays for another team next season.

"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."

While Shanahan believes the 49ers would benefit from Sanders' return, Football Outsiders isn't as sure. In a feature for ESPN examining "daring moves" for all 32 teams this offseason, Vincent Verhei of Football Outsiders suggests that maybe letting Sanders walk is in San Francisco's best interests.

RELATED Emmanuel Sanders wants to remain with 49ers, and that could happen, says analyst

How can the 49ers head coach and the analytics site have such differing opinions? While San Francisco's average points per game saw an uptick from 26.0 to 31.3 (including the playoffs) after Sanders' arrival via a mid-season trade, the team's offensive DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), was virtually unchanged (25.1% versus 26.9% during the regular season).

DVOA, by the way, takes every play and compares it to a baseline adjusted for situation and opponent, and is the metric used for virtually everything at Football Outsiders.


Verhei also notes that Sanders was a non-factor during the 49ers' three playoff games. Although, fans might argue that he was set up for one of the team's biggest plays in Super Bowl LIV as he beat coverage but couldn't haul in an off-target pass that might have sealed the win.

Sanders contributed just five catches for 71 receiving yards in three playoff games. Verhei mentions that Sanders is about to turn 33 years old, and the 49ers saw younger talent, like Deebo Samuel, emerge last season.

"The 49ers don't have the cap space to invest in an aging No. 2 receiver at this point," writes Verhei. "Plus, if Sanders leaves, San Francisco should receive a good compensatory pick down the line."

Verhei believes Shanahan and San Francisco might be better served spending less on second-tier receivers in free agency. He throws out names like Breshad Perriman, Paul Richardson, and Phillip Dorsett while noting how deep the receivers group is within the upcoming draft class.