Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Atlanta Falcons have agreed on a five-year deal with Cincinnati Bengals free-agent wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. According to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, the deal is worth $32.5 million and includes $14 million in fully guaranteed money. Sanu will be expected to replace 11-year veteran and the franchise’s all-time receiving leader, Roddy White, in the starting lineup across from Julio Jones. White was released by the team last week.
ESPN’s Vaughn McClure reported last week that Sanu was high on the Falcons’ wish list of potential free-agent targets. The Falcons quickly identified Sanu as such and brought him in for a visit. Reports surfaced that he was also on the New England Patriots’ radar and would be brought in for a visit should he leave Atlanta without a deal. The Falcons made sure that was not a possibility by inking him to a contract.
After being a third-round pick by the Bengals in 2012, Sanu never quite was able to consistently live up to the high expectations of his draft position and natural athleticism. Over four years in Cincinnati, he managed to start a total of 34 games with 27 coming in 2013 and 2014. The latter year saw him start due to an injury that sidelined former teammate Marvin Jones for the entire year. Sanu responded with his most productive season in Cincinnati, catching 56 passes for 790 yards and five touchdowns. However this past season with Jones returning to the lineup, Sanu saw a reduction in snaps and usage. He finished 2015 with four starts, catching 33 passes for 394 yards and no touchdowns. Sanu did however pass for a touchdown, completing all three attempts for 79 yards. His only individual scores of the year came on a pair of rushing attempts, adding a career-high 71 yards on the ground on 10 attempts.
Sanu, 26, has always been a productive player with the ball in his hand, tallying 153 rushing yards on 26 attempts over the past four seasons. That ability hails from his experience as an option quarterback during his high school days in New Jersey. He enrolled locally at Rutgers, emerging as a productive player during his junior season in which he caught 115 passes for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns. During his tenure at Rutgers, he often was used as a “wildcat” quarterback which translated to success being utilized on gimmicky and trick plays in the pros. For his career, Sanu has completed all five passing attempts for 177 yards and two touchdowns for a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
Sanu also has the capacity to play both in the slot and outside at receiver from his time in Cincinnati. When playing with healthy versions of Jones and A.J. Green, Sanu often played inside for the Bengals. That versatility could allow the Falcons to use him in a similar capacity as they utilized Leonard Hankerson last season. Hankerson was also moved around as the Falcons tried to exploit the abilities of Julio Jones by moving the latter around the formation to present favorable matchups.
If so, that might push the Falcons to move second-year receiver Justin Hardy to the “Z” receiver position to replace White. Hardy worked exclusively at that spot during the preseason last summer, although spent the bulk of his time playing in the slot during the second half of the regular season. Either way, the athletic Sanu should give the team at least some options in their efforts to find new ways to deploy their wide receivers and improve upon a lackluster passing season for quarterback Matt Ryan.