November 11, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (17) celebrates after a first down against the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
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Saints likely out of 1st-round wide receiver market after signing Emmanuel Sanders

The New Orleans Saints signed former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to a two-year deal worth up to $19 million on Friday in a move that brings a much-needed and established complement to all-world wideout Michael Thomas.

Sanders played the first part of 2019 with the Denver Broncos before being traded to 49ers in Week 8. Overall, he caught 66 passes for 869 yards and five touchdowns and answered any questions concerning his health after coming back from a torn Achilles suffered late in 2018.

Sanders turned 33 years old on March 17, which is teetering near the end of the road for the average wide receiver. The good news here is that Sanders won’t have the pressure of being the No. 1 target for the Saints. In fact, he’ll benefit from the focus Thomas will draw from opposing defenses and even as he advances in age, Sanders still has enough raw ability to beat second and third cornerbacks in one-on-one situations.

The signing is big for more reasons than just the impact Sanders will have on the Saints offense in 2020. It will also impact their 2020 NFL draft strategy.

Prior to adding Sanders, wide receiver was arguably New Orleans’ biggest draft need. With the plethora of first-round worthy pass-catchers in this year’s class, it seemed logical to send the Saints a wide receiver at No. 24 overall in mock drafts. But with Sanders in the fold, the Saints could choose to turn their attention to other needs, namely linebacker and cornerback.

Linebackers like Patrick Queen (LSU) and Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma) are expected to come off the board between picks 20-25, and both players would make a ton of sense for a Saints defense that features Kiko Alonso, Alex Anzalone and Demario Davis. An upgrade is desperately needed.

This isn’t meant to suggest the Saints absolutely won’t consider a wide receiver in the first round. It might come down to the best player available, and if a prospect like Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy suffers an unexpected fall, New Orleans will waste little time selecting him.

New Orleans put themselves in the driver’s seat by signing Sanders. They don’t have to get desperate in Round 1; they don’t have to force it, either. The Saints have empowered themselves to let the draft fall as it will, which should result in a talented starter on defense with the 24th selection.