49ers Could Trade $72 Million Star WR in ‘Tough Choice’: Insider

The 49ers Deebo Samuel could be offseason trade bait.

Getty The 49ers Deebo Samuel could be offseason trade bait.

Throughout the 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl in 2023, there was always an issue looming in the background. The team has star receiver Brandon Aiyuk on a fifth-year option at $14.1 million, but there is only a slim chance he’ll actually play on that deal—he is due an extension. At the same time, 2024 is the biggest cap-hit year for fellow star 49ers Deebo Samuel, who is in the midst of his three-year, $71.5 million extension.

Given how brilliant Aiyuk was in 2023, and his vague comments on his future after the season, it’s hard to imagine how the 49ers will be able to pay both players. Aiyuk’s market value is predicted to be $23.9 million per year, setting him up with a projected four-year, $92 million contract, according to Spotrac.

And if it comes down to picking between Samuel and Aiyuk, with one staying and the other being traded, 49ers insider Matt Barrows, who writes for The Athletic, says that it would likely be Aiyuk who stays and Samuel who is dealt.

Brandon Aiyuk Has Chemistry With Brock Purdy

Speaking on Friday on the “Papa & Lund” podcast on KNBR radio in San Francisco, Barrows said that Aiyuk’s chemistry with quarterback Brock Purdy might well be the clincher to keep him in town.

“If it came down to Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk, I think they go with Brandon Aiyuk because he’s on the same page as Brock Purdy,” Barrows said. “We saw that chemistry all year long. They seemed perfect for each other. They seem made for each other, whereas Deebo Samuel had some absolutely terrific games this season but didn’t seem to have the same passing chemistry. A lot of his yards were short passes that he creates yards after the catch.

“There are no easy decisions to be made but that’s kind of how I see it going if they had to make a tough choice like that.”

49ers Deebo Samuel Has Battled Injuries

Aiyuk caught 75 passes for 1,342 yards in 2023, both of which were career highs for him. He was seventh in the NFL in receiving yardage and third in the league with 28 catches of 20 yards or more. With a grade of 91.5, he was the No. 2 graded receiver at Pro Football Focus this season and is arguably the top deep threat in the league.

Samuel, meanwhile, was injured in Week 6 and missed Weeks 7 and 8, but still put up good numbers: 60 catches, 892 yards and seven touchdowns. He also rushed 37 times for 225 yards and five more touchdowns. He has struggled with injuries throughout his career, not a surprise given his physical style.

Samuel’s ability to break tackles and plow ahead brings a different dimension to the 49ers offense, and losing him would remove one of Kyle Shanahan’s favorite weapons.

But moving either Aiyuk or Samuel would strictly be a salary-cap move. We can expect that, in their place, the 49ers would get receiver Juaun Jennings—who had 10 catches and a touchdown in three postseason games—more involved in the offense.

It’s likely, too, that the 49ers will draft a wide receiver and/or look to the free-agent market to find a cost-effective alternative, perhaps a player like former 49ers receiver Kendrick Bourne, a free agent with the Patriots.

They would not be able to replace Samuel, though, a unique player in the NFL. Trading him would be difficult. But the salary cap might leave them no choice.

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