Trade Brandon Aiyuk? No, the 49ers Should Move Deebo Samuel Instead

Trade rumors have swirled around 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk this offseason. But if San Francisco trades a receiver, it should be Deebo Samuel.

The San Francisco 49ers may be facing a critical decision point. General manager John Lynch, head coach Kyle Shanahan, and the rest of the club’s brain trust have just $6.7 million in 2024 cap space to work with and are already predicted to be $20+ million over the 2025 salary cap.

With a long-term extension for QB Brock Purdy on next offseason’s docket, the 49ers will have to save somewhere — and that may force San Francisco to choose between wideouts Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.

Will the 49ers Trade Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel?

Aiyuk has been the more oft-mentioned trade candidate in San Francisco, but that’s probably only because he’s closer to reaching free agency than Samuel.

Aiyuk is scheduled to earn $14.124 million on his 2024 fifth-year option. He will hit the open market in 2025 unless the 49ers extend him or deploy a franchise tag, which should cost roughly $25 million next season, per Over the Cap.

“There’s no doubt that because we’ve been aggressive so much (financially) that there are some realities we’re going to be faced with,” Lynch said at last month’s NFL Owners Meetings. “You just can’t have everybody. Brandon is somebody we’d love to keep around.”

MORE: 2024 NFL WR Rankings

Lynch pushed back on the idea that San Francisco will trade Aiyuk this offseason — and for good reason. The 2020 first-round pick blossomed into a legitimate WR1 in 2023, earning second-team All-Pro honors while finishing second in yards per reception (17.9) and seventh in receiving yards (1,342).

“We are actively talking with Brandon, trying to figure something out,” Lynch said. “We have a good history of working with the guys we want to get something done. And it takes two sides. So can we do that? We’ll see.

“There are a number of different directions that it could go. But we appreciate Brandon and who he is as a player. We want him to be part of the 49ers. So we’re going to work toward making that a reality.”

San Francisco Should Choose Aiyuk Over Samuel

If push comes to shove, the 49ers should strongly consider extending Aiyuk — and instead trade Samuel.

Getting a new deal done for Aiyuk won’t be easy. He’s likely targeting something in the neighborhood of $30 million annually, which could be why NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo said an agreement between San Francisco and Aiyuk is “not close.”

But Aiyuk is worth the money. He finished sixth among WRs in yards per route run (2.65) in 2023. Receivers who play in primarily 12- or 21-personnel (two-WR sets) have an easier time generating yards per route run. However, Aiyuk ranked second in personnel-adjusted YPRR (2.82) over the past two seasons, per Tej Seth of Sumer Sports.

Nearly every advanced metric likes Aiyuk. He finished No. 1 in ESPN’s receiver tracking metrics in 2023, mainly due to his NFL-best 97 “Catch” rating.

Aiyuk’s “Catch” grade measures his ability to harness contested passes and lines up with the eye test. The Arizona State product’s game highlights are littered with examples of him plucking the ball away from opposing cornerbacks.

Aiyuk also ranked first in receiving DVOA, which measures per-play value over a league-average receiver. And he didn’t just come in No. 1 — he lapped the rest of the field, finishing eight percentage points higher than second-place Nico Collins.

Of course, Samuel is no slouch. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2021, when he posted a 77-1,405-6 line, led the league with 18.2 yards per catch, and threw in 365 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs for good measure.

Few receivers are as dynamic in the open field. Samuel ranked No. 1 in yards after the catch above expectation per reception in three of the last four seasons. He came in fifth in receiving DVOA and 13th in yards per route run in 2023.

However, the 28-year-old Samuel is two years and two months older than Aiyuk, and his physical style of play inherently makes him more of an injury risk.

Samuel has never completed a full slate of games in his five-year career. A fractured shoulder cost him two full games and most of another in 2023, while ankle and thigh issues sidelined him for four weeks in 2022.

The 49ers should think about getting out a year too early on Samuel instead of waiting until it’s too late. Trading him would clear nearly $7 million in cap space from San Francisco’s books and eliminate roughly $37 million in cash payments over the next two years.

Dealing Samuel would solve multiple 49ers problems at once.

Freeing up cash and cap by moving on from Samuel should allow Lynch and Shanahan to pay up to retain Aiyuk. Meanwhile, San Francisco can use the draft capital it receives in exchange for Samuel to find a younger, cheaper pass catcher in a historically talented 2024 WR draft class.

What could the 49ers get for Samuel? The Houston Texans just gave up a 2025 second-round pick for Stefon Diggs, who’s 2+ years older than Samuel and wasn’t as efficient last season.

Houston sacrificed a Round 2 selection despite agreeing to remove three seasons from Diggs’ contract, ensuring he’ll hit free agency next offseason. The Texans will pay Diggs $22.52 million for one season of employment.

Any team that acquires Samuel would be responsible for roughly $40 million over the next two years. He should be worth at least a 2024 second-round pick at that rate.

KEEP READING: Ranking the 49ers’ Biggest 2024 NFL Draft Needs

Maybe this is all moot. If the 49ers think they can get through one more season with Aiyuk and Samuel on the roster while chasing a Super Bowl, they could keep both wideouts.

But if San Francisco is forced to choose, Aiyuk should be the pick.

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