Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
There hasn’t been an NFL offseason in recent memory anything like this one. The number of trades involving star players has been more akin to the NBA than the NFL. A Super Bowl-winning quarterback has been traded. So he has an NFL MVP. And arguably the two best wide receivers in the game.
Now, the NFL landscape is potentially about to be rattled again as yet another superstar receiver has made it known that he wants a change of scenery.
Per ESPN’s Jeff Darlington, after a bevy of speculation that Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers was unhappy with the progress of contract negotiations, the 26-year-old wideout has requested a trade.
Jeff Darlington @jeffdarlington
Breaking News: I just spoke to wide receiver Deebo Samuel — and he told me that he has asked the 49ers to trade him. He did not want to discuss specific reasons behind his request for him, but he has indeed let the 49ers know his desire for him to leave the organization. More to eat.
To say this is going to pique the interest of NFL general managers is an understatement. Samuel emerged last season as one of the most versatile and dangerous offensive weapons in the league. He caught 77 passes for 1,405 yards and six scores, averaging a robust 18.2 yards per reception. But it was as a ball-carrier where Samuel really surprised. The 6’0″ 215-pounder averaged a robust 6.2 yards per carry on 59 rushing attempts and showed a nose for the end zone, scoring eight times on the ground.
Heading into the final year of his rookie deal, that explosion set Samuel up for a monster payday. But as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported (h/t Wilton Jackson of Sports Illustrated), the 49ers had no issues with giving Samuel a deal in line with the whopping extensions recently inked by Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill.
“San Francisco would pay Deebo Samuel today, tomorrow, the next day. It’s not hard to figure out what the contract would look like, we’ve seen some of the top numbers in the league,” Schefter said.
Apparently, Samuel just wants out. There will be plenty of teams lining up to pitch 49ers general manager John Lynch a package of picks and offer Samuel a new deal in excess of $25 million a season. But there are five teams that stand out as the best fits, both from their need for Samuel on the field to their ability to pay what it takes to get him.
5. Atlanta Falcons
Here’s a news flash for you. The Atlanta Falcons need offensive weapons.
With Calvin Ridley suspended for the entire 2022 season, as things stand today, the Falcons’ starting wide receivers would be Olamide Zaccheaus and Damiere Byrd.
That is, as they say, ungood.
John Hefti/Associated Press
Samuel wouldn’t just immediately become the team’s No. 1 wide receiver. He’d become the team’s top offensive weapon overall. A player who could take some of the heat off of young tight end Kyle Pitts.
The problem with this fit is a lot less about Samuel on the field than it is the logistics of making a trade happen. Samuel would have to be sold on the idea of being moved to a team in the opening stages of a rebuild, as a contract extension has to be part of the trade. The Falcons also aren’t likely to want to part with the eighth overall pick—a pick many believe Atlanta has earmarked for a quarterback.
Add in that it’s a trade inside the NFC, and while a deal with Atlanta is possible, it isn’t likely. Especially with Atlanta sitting in the league’s bottom 10 in available cap space, per Over The Cap.
4. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have their own contract drama to contend with in the looming megadeal for quarterback Lamar Jackson. But Jackson, who doesn’t have an agent, doesn’t appear to be in any kind of hurry to ink an extension. There has been speculation that Jackson might be willing to play things year to year under the franchise tags to the Kirk Cousins in Washington.
Perhaps a massive upgrade to the team’s receiving corps would be extra motivation for Jackson to agree to hang around long-term.
Julio Cortez/Associated Press
The Ravens have one of the league’s top tight ends in Mark Andrews. Marquise Brown posted the first 1,000-yard season of his career in 2021. And the team used a first-round pick last year on Rashod Bateman. But Samuel would immediately step in as Baltimore’s top receiver and a second go-to target (alongside Andrews) in the passing game.
The Ravens may have missed the postseason last year, but make no mistake—this is a team with aspirations of playing in Arizona next February. The question is whether Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta believes Samuel is worth putting the 14th and 45th overall picks in the 2022 draft up for sale.
Because that’s probably what it will take to land Samuel given what Adams and Hill went for. Never mind the extension, which could be tricky given that the Ravens possess less than $6 million in cap space.
3.New York Jets
Like the Falcons, the Jets are rebuilding. But New York’s wide receiver situation is in much better shape. Elijah Moore impressed as a rookie. Corey Davis is a lanky outside threat and red-zone target. Braxton Berrios is an underrated talent in the slot.
Add Deebo Samuel to that mix, and second-year quarterback Zach Wilson would have no shortage of weapons in the passing game.
Aaron Gash/Associated Press
The Jets are also sitting on ample draft capital with which to get a deal done. New York has a pair of top-10 picks, and many mock draft have slated one of those picks for a wideout. The Jets also possess two of the first six picks in Round 2, another pick in Round 3 and the 10th-most salary-cap space in the league, per Over The Cap.
There’s also a built-in familiarity between Samuel and Jets head coach Robert Saleh from their time together in San Francisco. If Saleh can sell Samuel on a Jets team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade, this is a landing spot that makes more than a little sense.
2.Kansas City Chiefs
The last two teams on this list should surprise exactly zero people.
Yes, the Kansas City Chiefs made an effort to address the wide receiver position after dealing Tyreek Hill, signing JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mock draft that doesn’t have the Chiefs taking a wideout with one of their two first-round picks.
Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling don’t come close to replacing Hill, and Samuel’s availability changes the game considerably.
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
The Chiefs are sitting on back-to-back first-rounders this season at Nos. 29 and 30. Kansas City also possesses a pair of second-rounders (Nos. 50 and 62). The draft capital is there to swing a deal. The Chiefs are also quietly sitting on the ninth-most cap space in the league. With a little creative accounting, the team can make an extension work.
The future is now for the Chiefs. Their championship window won’t stay open forever. The question could be how willing Lynch is to make the team that beat the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV better.
1. Green Bay Packers
Let’s get this out of the way from the jump: A Deebo Samuel trade to the Green Bay Packers may be the best fit on this list, but it isn’t the most likely destination. In fact, it could be the least likely. The Niners and Packers may not be division rivals, but there’s no shortage of bad blood between these franchises after so many playoff battles against one another—including last year.
With that said, there’s no denying Samuel would be a game-changing get for the Packers. After trading Adams and watching Valdes-Scantling bolt for Kansas City, the Green Bay wideout corps is a mess. Right now, the projected starters are Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb and Sammy Watkins.
That last pair would be a lot more imposing in 2015.
The presumption that using one (or both) of the team’s first-round picks on wideouts will magically fix things is wishful thinking at best and folly at worst.
Aaron Rodgers doesn’t target players he doesn’t trust. And historically speaking, that has meant modest first seasons for receivers in Titletown.
Ben Margot/Associated Press
There’s no guarantee that things would be different with Samuel. But he’s certainly a more proven commodity at the professional level.
The Packers have two picks in each of the draft’s first two rounds and five picks in the draft’s first two days. If Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst wants to keep Green Bay’s Super Bowl window open, he should be willing to get aggressive here. Offer a first-rounder (say, No. 28) and both seconds.
Or maybe even push all the chips into the middle of the table and offer both firsts.
Make Lynch an offer he can’t refuse.