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Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Can the 49ers fit Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel extensions under the cap?

Rohan Chakravarthi
Feb 18, 2023 at 5:40 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers are heading into the offseason facing several personnel decisions with 25 impending free agents, such as right tackle Mike McGlinchey and cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, meaning there most likely will be several tough decisions on where to attack in free agency.

However, one decision will not be tough: picking up emerging wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk's fifth-year option for 2024, which will cost the 49ers $14.12 million.

After the fifth-year option talks come extension talks for Brandon Aiyuk, who will likely command a hefty salary after a strong 2022 season, especially given the rising market for wide receivers in the modern NFL.

With the 49ers already having several key players under large extensions, including the likes of star wideout Deebo Samuel, can the 49ers fit an extension for Brandon Aiyuk under the cap, but more importantly, is the move logical?

Deebo Samuel contract

Before diving into the numbers for a potential Brandon Aiyuk extension and the realisticness of the move, let's revisit Deebo Samuel's contract to get an understanding of the 49ers' cap situation over the next three seasons.

Last season, Samuel signed a three-year extension worth $71,55 million, which included $58.1 million in total guarantees and $41 million guaranteed at signing.

With the 49ers backloading the deal, here is Samuel's cap hits during his fourth season(final year of rookie deal), and extension years.

2022(last year of rookie deal): $6.876 million
2023(first year of extension): $8.653 million
2024: $28.572 million
2025: $24.201 million

The 49ers added two void years to shoulder some of the guaranteed money, allowing for lower cap hits during the years of the extensions.

As of now, Samuel is projected to have a cap hit of $8.653 million this upcoming season.

Brandon Aiyuk's potential deal

While Brandon Aiyuk is entering the fourth year of his deal, similar to Deebo Samuel last offseason, the 49ers wideout has a fifth-year option, as he was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, meaning that San Francisco has an extra year of team control, and that extension talks will, almost assuredly, begin next offseason.

However, let's take a way-too-early look at what those projections might be like, and then evaluate whether the move is realistic or not.

Currently, Aiyuk is scheduled to make $3.987 million in the fourth year of his rookie deal, while projected to make $14.124 million in 2024 if his fifth-year option is picked up as expected.

Although projections are currently difficult, given the significant changes to the market on a year-to-year basis, Aiyuk could very well warrant a deal similar to Deebo Samuel, and I believe he'll fall in between the D.J. Moore three-year, $60 million range to Samuel's three-year, $71 million contract.

If that were to be the case, Aiyuk's extension would essentially be a four-year deal, as it would be on top of the fifth-year option, keeping him in San Francisco until his age-30 season.

I believe a three-year deal would be the best for both sides, providing the 49ers flexibility to potentially move on if needed at an earlier timeline, while allowing Aiyuk to hit the open market for one more potential major contract before his prime concludes.

As for the guaranteed money at signing, a figure around $40 million appears sensible at the moment, as Samuel earned $41 million, while Moore earned $41.61 million on their respective deals.

The total guarantees are where it'll be intriguing for the 49ers, as they dished out $58.1 million to Deebo Samuel, while players like D.J. Moore, Chris Godwin, and Mike Williams earned around $40 million in total guarantees on their deals.

Is it realistic?

The most important question regarding the potential Brandon Aiyuk extension is: is it realistic, especially given the significant investment put into Deebo Samuel, as well as the ever-increasing wideout market and the amount of money shelled into core players already on the 49ers?

Let's align the two wideout deals, assuming an Aiyuk extension.

Aiyuk's extension would begin in 2025, the last year of Deebo Samuel's contract, but the extension would likely alter his 2024 cap hit which currently stands at $14.124 million.

With an understanding of how the 49ers have structured contracts in the past, prioritizing smaller cap hits in the early years, it's safe to assume that Aiyuk's cap hit in 2024 will significantly lower, which is important as Samuel shoulders a cap hit of $28.572 million currently.

Aiyuk's number, which stands at that $14.124 million figure, could decrease to around $6 million, dependent on the signing bonus that the wideout receives.

Aiyuk's base salary in 2024 would be around $1.035 million, similar to what D.J. Moore's was after he was extended on a fifth-year option, while the signing bonus could amount to around $25 million, which the 49ers can spread over five seasons: the final year of his rookie deal, the three years of his extension, and a void year to help create more cap space over the previous years.

But, the biggest problem with an Aiyuk contract doesn't come in 2024, aka the year of his fifth-year option, and when the extension should occur.

It comes when the extension actually kicks in, which is during the 2025 season, and consequently Deebo Samuel's final year of his extension.

However, the 49ers can make an extension work by structuring an Aiyuk extension similarly to how they made Deebo Samuel's: lower the cap hits for each of the first two seasons, while shouldering the load on the back two years of the contract.

If the 49ers do so, Aiyuk could have a cap hit of under $15 million in 2025, while Samuel makes $24.2 million that season, keeping the receiver contracts relatively manageable, rather than two massive deals at the position.

Here are what the cap hits for each player could potentially look like:

Deebo Samuel
2024: $28.572 million
2025: $24.201 million
2026: $6.650 million(void)
2027: $1.843 million(void)

Brandon Aiyuk
2024: $6.5 million(fifth-year option year)
2025: $12 million
2026: $28 million
2027: $25 million
2028: $8 million(void)
2029: $2 million(void)

If Aiyuk were to earn a deal for around three years for $68 million, his total cap hit over the duration of his extension and the fifth-year option would amount to around $82 million, and the deal shown above represents that.

Will it be costly to retain both Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel? Absolutely, but it's certainly possible, as San Francisco can lower the cap hits for the first year of Aiyuk's extension, along with his fifth-year option year, while bolstering the backend of the deal, creating an ideal situation for the two receivers while Samuel remains under contract.

Potential move

Another option that could be considered is moving on from Deebo Samuel before the end of his contract to open up more cap space and make an Aiyuk extension more manageable and reasonable.

While moving Samuel in 2023 is unrealistic, given that San Francisco would shoulder a dead cap hit of $28 million, they could very well look to make a move over one of the next two offseasons, especially if they designate the move as a post-June 1st trade, saving cap space, while getting value for an expensive asset.

The 49ers would save $22 million if they moved Samuel post-June 1st next offseason, as they can shoulder the dead cap hit over multiple seasons instead of just one.

But, regardless of whether the 49ers ultimately move Samuel or not, they can definitely afford extensions for both of their top receivers. It just comes down to the structure of the deals.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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