DENVER (AP) – If he gets the chance, Emmanuel Sanders will shake Andy Reid’s hand Sunday when the Denver Broncos host the Kansas City Chiefs.
It’s a handshake the Chiefs coveted six months ago.
The Chiefs thought they had a deal with the speedy wide receiver when he visited Kansas City on his free agency tour in March only to watch their AFC West rivals swoop in at the end.
Broncos GM John Elway made Sanders his top target in free agency after letting Eric Decker leave for the Jets.
Sanders, who spent his first four NFL seasons catching Ben Roethlisberger’s passes, chose Peyton Manning over Alex Smith.
“I just feel like I was a better fit here in Denver and it was obvious – they throw the football,” said Sanders, who signed for three years and $15 million.
“In college, I played under a guy by the name of June Jones, who runs the run-and-shoot offense. I like to catch the ball. In college, we threw the ball on third-and-1, on fourth-and-1. I feel like that’s the mold that Denver has up here and I’m enjoying it.”
Sanders admitted he was close to signing with the Chiefs, but insisted he never agreed to a contract: “There was no handshake, there was no agreement.”
The divider, he said, was in the details.
“I think we had the foundation of the contract ready, but I wasn’t happy with the incentives. So that whole ordeal was close, but it wasn’t anything official,” Sanders said. “They tried to make it seem like it was official, but it never was.”
So, Sanders hopped on a flight to Denver – which he called “wide receiver heaven” after watching Manning set NFL records by throwing for 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards last season.
In his Denver debut, Sanders lined up in the slot with Wes Welker starting his suspension and caught six passes for 77 yards against Indianapolis.
Manning said his chemistry with Sanders is a season-long work in progress “but I thought he had a heck of a game.”
Sanders was just the kind of playmaker the Chiefs (0-1) could have used when they got routed by Tennessee in their opener.
Other things to keep an eye on when the injury-riddled Chiefs try to beat the Broncos (1-0) for the first time since Kyle Orton got the best of Tim Tebow 7-3 in the 2011 finale:
-VICKERSON’S RETURN: Manning will see a familiar face coming after him. Defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson, cut by Denver last month, signed with the Chiefs after they lost Mike DeVito to a ruptured Achilles tendon.
“I have certainly played against former teammates before, so I think I’m used to it,” Manning said.
Denver nose tackle Terrance Knighton said he knows Vickerson will be fired up for his homecoming.
“He’ll probably have some type of edge, just because we did cut him,” Knighton said. “I wish him the best. I hope he plays well – not enough for them to win.”
His new teammates in Kansas City are surely picking Vickerson’s brain for tips about Manning.
Asked if Vickerson told him what it means when Manning yells “Omaha” at the line of scrimmage, Reid deadpanned, “He said it’s a city in Nebraska.”
-LOOKING FOR CHARLES: All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles went virtually unused last week.
“Not giving 25 the ball more than seven times is negligence on my part,” Reid said after Charles ran seven times for 19 yards and caught four passes for 15 more.
Now, Charles will face a Denver defense bolstered by the signing of former Browns strong safety T.J. Ward, who was brought in to thwart opponents’ ground games.
“I guess that is one of my strong points,” said Ward, noting he helped hold Charles in check last season.
Although Charles gained 120 yards on 23 touches in K.C.’s 23-17 win over the Browns last year, he was held out of the end zone and Ward had 10 tackles.
-BOWE’S BACK: After losing DeVito and Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Johnson to season-ending injuries, the Chiefs were forced to frantically retool their roster during the week. The biggest headline, however, was the return of wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.
While Bowe served his weeklong suspension following an arrest last November, Smith threw for just 202 yards and three interceptions against Tennessee.
“He’s a real weapon,” Smith said. “He’s the type of player that contributes everywhere, in all areas of the field in all situations.”
-WELKER WAITS: The Broncos were hoping to have their own elite receiver back.
They’ve been keeping close tabs on talks between the league and players union on a new drug policy in hopes Welker’s drug suspension would be rescinded.
Union chief DeMaurice Smith has said players suspended under the current rules should have their punishments revised or revoked under a new policy.
“I’ve been in contact with Wes and I know he’s champing at the bit to get back,” Manning said.
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– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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