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Assessing Brandon Aiyuk’s and Deebo Samuel’s futures with the 49ers

Mar 5, 2024 at 12:12 PM--

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There was much discussion surrounding San Francisco 49ers wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel at the NFL Scouting Combine last week in Indianapolis. Aiyuk is eligible for a contract extension, while Samuel is under contract through the 2025 season.

Samuel's salary-cap hit will average $26.4 million over the next two seasons. While a contract extension for Aiyuk could bring his average salary close to that amount, the impact in 2024 won't be as significant. So, there's no urgency to move away from either player, especially considering the 49ers are coming off a Super Bowl appearance and believe their window for contention remains open.

The question arises: After the upcoming season, do the 49ers really want to tie up around $50 million of salary cap space in two wide receivers? It's also worth noting that San Francisco has a potential out on Samuel's deal after the 2024 season. Not that team decision-makers would opt to part ways with the receiver without receiving anything in return.

When asked about the financial feasibility of signing Aiyuk to a long-term deal after rewarding several star players—including Samuel—with contract extensions in recent years, general manager John Lynch stated, "We have some challenges. We have a lot of good players, a lot of good players who we've rewarded. Brandon's one that we think incredibly highly of, one of my favorite guys around our building, the way he approaches the game. He's a competitor. He's a warrior. He plays with such physicality, also with grace, in the way some of the positions his body can get into."

Lynch emphasized the 49ers' strong track record of keeping the team's core together in recent years, adding, "Brandon's a guy we want to keep around for a long time."

The 49ers are clearly keeping their options open. They would love to enter the 2024 season with Aiyuk and Samuel lined up across from each other on offense. However, there's an overall sense that Aiyuk is seen more as the long-term option.

The media has been discussing the possibility of San Francisco trading Aiyuk. While the team is always open to entertaining offers, especially if one blows them away, I think the consensus inside the building is that Aiyuk fits into the team's long-term plans.

If the 49ers find a receiver they like in the draft, they might be more willing to part with Samuel's salary eventually. Perhaps not this year, as the team can make the financials work in the short term, but they might be more receptive to offers after this season. Remember, Aiyuk's deal will likely come into play in 2025, and the 49ers must start preparing for the salary-cap impact of quarterback Brock Purdy's contract extension. He becomes eligible to discuss his future after the upcoming season. You can't pay a starting quarterback less than $1 million forever.

Much was made of the 49ers losing three consecutive games last season. Coincidentally, Samuel was injured in those three contests, which may have created a false perception surrounding his overall impact. That's not to say he isn't a very talented player. Samuel is more than a receiving threat and is a challenge for opposing defensive coordinators. He is also tough to bring down in the open field after getting the ball in his hands. However, Samuel surpassed 100 receiving yards just twice after his return from injury and recorded under 50 receiving yards in five of those nine games (yes, one was with limited playing time in Week 18 against the Rams).

Aiyuk led the team with 1,342 receiving yards. It was his second consecutive year surpassing the 1,000-receiving-yard mark. During that same second-half stretch, Aiyuk surpassed 100 receiving yards in four games and seven total times throughout the season. One might argue that being a more traditional receiver rather than enduring the punishment Samuel does as a "wide back" makes Aiyuk a more appealing long-term option.

Others might argue that having another versatile player like running back Christian McCaffrey diminishes Samuel's value. That could indeed be the case, and paying a running back top dollar is a much more affordable option than the top of the market for receivers.

Unless contract negotiations derail, Aiyuk will undoubtedly remain with the 49ers much longer than Samuel. Inside the building, the team may view Aiyuk as a better long-term option, leading to its decision-makers working hard to ensure their 25-year-old receiver is signed to an extension before training camp.
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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