ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When Emmanuel Sanders signed with Denver in 2014, he said he imagined a day when he could hoist a Lombardi Trophy alongside his young son.
During his six seasons in Denver, Sanders did that and a whole lot more.
The veteran receiver, whom President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway and the Broncos announced they had agreed to trade Tuesday to the San Francisco 49ers for a third-round pick and a fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, racked up 404 catches for 5,361 yards and 28 touchdown receptions over 78 games with Denver. The Broncos also sent a 2020 fifth-round pick to San Francisco as part of the deal.
Sanders earned Pro Bowl selections following the 2014 and 2016 seasons, and he recorded three consecutive seasons from 2014-16 with at least 1,000 receiving yards.
His most productive season came during that 2014 campaign, as he combined with Peyton Manning for the only 100-catch season of his career. Sanders also posted 1,404 yards and nine touchdown receptions that year.
In 2015, Sanders helped push the Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 title. He tallied more than 1,100 yards during the team’s championship season and caught 16 passes for 230 yards during Denver’s three-game playoff run.
Those two seasons with Manning were, as Sanders put it during his introductory press conference, “wide receiver heaven.”
But even after Manning retired following the 2015 season, Sanders remained productive.
During his time with Denver, he caught touchdown passes from six different quarterbacks — and he threw one in 2018 to teammate Courtland Sutton.
That pass, in a win over the Cardinals, was just one of Sanders’ memorable plays during his career with the Broncos.
He caught three touchdown passes in 2014 against the Chargers. He hauled in a 75-yard pass for a go-ahead score in 2015 against the Browns. He snagged a 41-yard go-route in 2016 against the Bengals.
Then there was a somersault touchdown against Kansas City in 2015, a flip into the end zone against Seattle in 2018 and a rushing touchdown against Baltimore the same year.
Just this season, Sanders caught a go-ahead score against the Bears in the corner of the end zone.
Between the big plays and career contributions, Sanders has left a mark on the franchise. He ranks seventh in team history in all-time receptions and has the fourth most 10-catch games and 100-yard receiving games as a Bronco.
Sanders finishes inside the top 10 in receiving yards with the franchise and needed the third fewest games in team history to reach 5,000 receiving yards.
While his Denver career is now over, the highlights and the big moments cannot be taken away.
This will be the true legacy of Emmanuel Sanders: the unbelievable catches, the chest pounds after first downs and the flips into the end zone.
And, of course, lifting that Lombardi Trophy.