News that a Houston-area grand jury had been looking into a sexual-assault accusation against wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is something of a gift to the Denver Broncos, the franchise for which he's played since 2014. Speculation has been rife that the team was looking to dump him for economic reasons, even though jettisoning the fan favorite would have almost certainly stirred controversy. Now, however, getting rid of Sanders despite him dodging an indictment in the Houston case can be spun as team executive John Elway and company taking a stand against the sort of bad off-the-field behavior that's led to the Broncos racking up 49 arrests since 2000, a total that's tied for the most in the NFL over that span.
Sanders is handsome, charming and extremely telegenic, as evidenced by his frequent media appearances and co-hosting duties on the 9News program Broncos Huddle. But prior to his latest brush with the law, his personal life has been messy and unflattering.
In February 2017, for example, he made uncomfortable headlines after the release of divorce papers filed the previous December by his wife, Gabriella Sanders, while she was pregnant with his second child.
As we reported at the time, an excerpt from the court filing reads: "When he's not playing football on the field, he 'plays the field' with numerous women with whom he is or has committed adultery."
Among the marital "atrocities" the document cites are assertions that Emmanuel spent "thousands upon thousands of dollars on girlfriends and wasting the community estate, even purchasing a vehicle for one of his illicit affairs."
Months later, an extramarital matter of an allegedly criminal nature came to the attention of the Harris County Sheriff's Office, an agency operating in the Houston area. Here's the HCSO's statement about the inquiry, released yesterday after coverage broke about the grand jury:
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office received a complaint regarding Emmanuel Sanders on June 15, 2017. The complaint was thoroughly investigated, and all involved parties, including Emmanuel Sanders, were interviewed by investigators. Upon completion of the investigation, evidence and witness statements were presented to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to determine whether a criminal charge should be filed. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office presented the case to a grand jury, which determined on January 9, 2018 that there was insufficient evidence to support a criminal charge.
Thus far, Sanders hasn't made a public comment about the accusation; his most recent tweets have focused on promotional appearances on behalf of the NFL in the United Kingdom. But the Broncos have weighed in with a boilerplate comment — "We are aware of the media report involving Emmanuel Sanders and are looking into it" — that's virtually identical to one issued earlier this week after the bust of receiver Carlos Henderson in Louisiana on marijuana-related charges.
The Henderson incident pushed the Broncos into a tie with the Minnesota Vikings for the most arrests since the launch of the NFL Players Arrest database. The 49 bookings is far in excess of the number associated with the majority of other NFL squads; totals in the teens and twenties are more common.
The latest claim against Sanders doesn't add to that total, since he wasn't indicted. But he's still likely to face suspension by the NFL, which sat down Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games after authorities declined to charge him with domestic violence against his girlfriend. And that prospect makes Sanders even more expendable. In 2016, he signed a three-year contract extension worth $33 million, and with the Broncos needing to break the bank to sign a new quarterback after its disastrous 2017-18 season, they can use every dollar they can get.
The receiver most likely to benefit from a Sanders exit — Cody Latimer — has made some uncomfortable headlines of his own. He was arrested in 2016 after he was reportedly assaulted by his significant other, Jaimee Rando, because he had an active warrant in his name over a traffic violation the previous year; he subsequently paid a $311 fine. And last July, he was caught on video being pepper-sprayed outside an Ohio strip club.
Nonetheless, Sanders's close call with the grand jury and presumed suspension gives the Broncos cover if they'd like to bid him farewell. And it also lets them pretend that there isn't a culture within the team that's led so many players to wind up in handcuffs during the past seventeen years-plus.