The move is not entirely unexpected after coach Kyle Shanahan hinted on Monday that the club were interested in adding Sanu. Shanahan and Sanu spent the 2016 season with the Atlanta Falcons.
The 49ers currently only have three healthy receivers on their 53-man roster: Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis and Trent Taylor. Richie James is unlikely to be available due to hamstring strain.
The 49ers are hoping rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk will be available to make his NFL debut on Sunday against the New York Jets. Aiyuk left training on August 23 with hamstring strain.
Deebo Samuel, the team’s top receiver, is also out for at least the first three games of the season as he suffered a setback in his rehabilitation after surgery to repair a broken Jones.
The New England Patriots recently released Sanu. It shouldn’t take long for him to acclimatize to Shanahan’s offense. In 2016, with Shanahan as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator, Sanu caught 59 passes for 653 yards and four touchdowns.
The 49ers chose to bring in Sanu rather than promote one of their three receivers from the practice squad. Rookie Jauan Jennings and veterans Kevin White and River Cracraft are on the practice squad.
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This isn’t the first time the 49ers have chased Sanu, but things are different this time around.
The 49ers attempted to acquire Sanu last season just before the NFL trade deadline in October. However, the Patriots acquired him from Atlanta for a second-round pick.
The 49ers turned to receiver Emmanuel Sanders instead, and the club acquired him in a trade with the Denver Broncos. At the time, the 49ers preferred to add Sanu to their roster because he was signed for the 2020 season. Sanders was productive for the 49ers and he signed with the New Orleans Saints in the offseason.
Things didn’t work out for Sanu with the Patriots. In eight games, he caught 26 passes for 207 yards. New England cut Sanu before the start of the regular season to hit the 53-man limit.
The 49ers delayed acquiring Sanu until they felt they couldn’t wait any longer.