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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Are the 49ers preparing for life after Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel? Louis Riddick believes so

Marc Adams
Jun 8, 2024 at 9:00 AM

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Go back to the weeks leading up to the 2024 NFL Draft and you'll find rumors swirling about the possibility that the San Francisco 49ers could be trading one of their star wide receivers, Brandon Aiyulk or Deebo Samuel. Many believed that if a trade was made, it would happen before or during the draft. But the draft came and went, and neither player was moved.

But here we are in June, and the rumors haven't died down—much. Aiyuk, after skipping OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and the mandatory minicamp due to a contract dispute, is reportedly "pessimistic" that a deal will get done. And of course, there are still rumblings from Pittsburgh Steelers reporter, Ray Fittipaldo, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that the Steelers will trade for Aiyuk or Samuel.

And now ESPN's Louis Riddick appears to believe the 49ers could move on from one of their top pass catchers. On Wednesday, Riddick was a guest on Get Up and said the 49ers may be preparing for life after Aiyuk or Samuel. "Clearly, John Lynch is preparing for one of these guys to not be there," Riddick said. "You don't draft Ricky Pearsall in the first round out of Florida when you think that both Brandon and Deebo are gonna be there. You don't draft Jacob Cowing out of Arizona in the fourth. You don't pay Jauan Jennings...So I think they're planning for the eventual exodus of one of these guys. My bet would be that it will be Deebo."

NFL Insider, Dan Graziano, who also was a guest on Get Up, added "Brandon Aiyuk [is] heading into his fifth-year option season, scheduled to make a little over $14 million this year, and that is his cap number, but Deebo Samuel's cap number this year is almost 29 million. Can you pay them both? So far the 49ers are saying, 'yes,' but if and when they get a deal done with Brandon Aiyuk, they have to think about the long-term with both of them. I think they revisit the idea of maybe trading Deebo Samuel, whether it's before the season, during the season, or certainly after."

It wouldn't seem to make sense to trade Aiyuk or Samuel before (or during) the season. If the 49ers still have the best roster in football, and most believe they do, then it's reasonable to believe they want to make another run with all their guys. Why would you make yourself weaker going into a season in which you believe you can win the Super Bowl? Now, what happens beyond 2024 is another story.

Still, some, like Albert Breer, of Sports Illustrated, believe Samuel could be traded. "Given their druthers, this is just me talking, I think they would keep Brandon Aiyuk over Deebo Samuel," Breer said. "And I think it's because Brandon Aiyuk is more of a traditional number one receiver who can beat man coverage, who you can build an offense around. Deebo Samuel is great. He can do a million different things, but at this point, is he a little bit more of a luxury?"

Breer believes the 49ers will continue trying to agree to a new deal with Aiyuk. If a new contract is worked out, Breer says the attention may then turn to Samuel.

"Then, I think they get some phone calls on Deebo," Breer added. "And if the phone calls coming on Deebo, there's something they really love out there, fine. If not, they wait a year and trade him after the year. I don't think both those guys are going to be on the team [together] long-term, and I do think that their futures with the Niners are relative to one another and really kind of center on the way the Aiyuk contract negotiation goes.

"But I do think that if it were up to [head coach] Kyle Shanahan and [general manager] John Lynch, ideally, I think they'd like to have Aiyuk on their roster long-term. And if that means trading Deebo, then I think that they'd be okay with that."

On Thursday, 49ers reporter Matt Maiocco told KNBR's Murph & Markus that the Aiyuk contract situation could go a few different ways, including the possibility that the team does not agree on a new deal with Aiyuk. So while it seems likely the 49ers will have Samuel and Aiyuk for the 2024 season, they could move on from one of them in 2025.

This brings us back to Riddick's statement that the drafting of Pearsall and Cowing, as well as the new deal for Jennings, shows that Lynch is preparing for Samuel or Aiyuk to be moved at some point. Will that happen? If so, when? At this point, it's anyone's guess.
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