This week in “The 2022 NFL Offseason Is Out of Control”: 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington on Wednesday that he asked San Francisco for a trade. The request follows a flurry of big-money receiver moves this offseason (kick-started by, of all culprits, the Jaguars and Christian Kirk). The NFL draft is a week away, which makes the timing of Samuel’s request particularly riveting.
Cue the jersey swaps. Every NFL team could use Samuel on their roster. The 26-year-old is coming off his first All-Pro campaign in which he snagged 77 receptions for a career-high 1,405 yards and six touchdowns. He also proved to be one of the NFL’s most dynamic tailbacks, too, tallying 365 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, with a bulk of that production coming after Week 9. Coach Kyle Shanahan took advantage of Samuel’s dual-threat ability all the way to the NFC championship game. But apparently, that’s part of the reason Samuel seeks to leave San Francisco.
Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, “money is not at the root of the issues” for Samuel, as the Niners are willing to hand him a new long-term deal. It comes down to Samuel’s usage. He missed nine games in 2020 after recovering from an offseason Jones fracture before dealing with hamstring injuries upon his return. Last season, a groin injury nagged the former second-round pick through the back end of the season. Samuel has reportedly been unwilling to engage to negotiate with San Francisco this offseason, leaving the club in limbo over the future of its no. 1 target. If you’re wondering if any of it makes sense, here’s how my colleague Ben Solak concisely laid it out:
Things that are simultaneously true— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) April 20, 2022
1) the best coach for Deebo's production is Shanahan
2) the way Shanahan used Deebo gave him an increased injury risk over other top WRs
3) Deebo w/o Shanahan is still one of the league's best young receivers who deserves a whale of a deal
Samuel is one of a handful of star wideouts from the 2019 draft who are reportedly holding out of offseason programs in hopes of getting a new contract (or in Samuel’s case, a move away from his team altogether). Kirk’s four-year, $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) pact with Jacksonville was followed by Davante Adams leaving the Packers for the Raiders, who signed him to a five-year, $140 million ($65.7 million guaranteed) contract. Then, Tyreek Hill pushed his way out from the Chiefs before negotiating a four-year, $120 million ($72.2 million guaranteed) deal in a trade to the Dolphins. Earlier this month, the Bills re-signed Stefon Diggs to a four-year, $96 million deal ($70 million guaranteed). Hill ($30 million average annual value, highest in the league at his position), Adams ($28 million AAV, second) and Diggs ($24 million AAV, fourth) now each rank among the top-earning receivers. Samuel currently averages $1.8 million on his rookie contract.
Samuel appears to be next in line for a trade and a huge payday. The Niners, who don’t pick until the 61st choice in next week’s draft, would prefer to keep Samuel. But if they don’t, they could be on the verge of accruing enticing draft capital in exchange for their most dynamic offensive player. Below, we take a look at the teams rumored to be in the mix for Samuel’s services.
New York Jets
Cap space: $17.9 million (per Over the Cap)
Draft capital: Pick nos. 4, 10, 35, 38, 69
After missing out on Hill last month, the Jets still need a new star wideout for quarterback Zach Wilson. And this potential marriage would make a ton of sense. New York coach Robert Saleh, offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, and receivers coach Miles Austin were all a part of the 49ers 2019 coaching staff during Samuel’s rookie season. That familiarity could give the Jets an edge in understanding how to best utilize Samuel. A New York receiving corps of Samuel, Elijah Moore, and Corey Davis, with new tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, would form the most dynamic passing attack the Jets have had in years. It would also arm their young QB with the necessary star power to help him take a leap in his second season. For now, however, it might be unlikely—according to NY Daily News’s D.J. Bien-Aime II, the Jets don’t believe Samuel will actually be traded.
Green Bay Packers
Cap space: $14 million
Draft capital: Pick nos. 22, 28, 53, 59, 92
The Packers receiving group is barren. Green Bay’s offense revolved largely around Adams, who led the team with a whopping 169 targets and 123 catches, accounting for more than a third of the Packers’ catches and receiving yards. They also lost Marques Valdes-Scantling, their deep threat, to the Chiefs in free agency. Adding Sammy Watkins should help, but the Packers are still missing a reliable, big-play no. 1 wideout for Aaron Rodgers. Samuel isn’t quite the caliber of Adams, but he could certainly help fill that void.
Similarly to members of the Jets staff, coach Matt LaFleur has experience coaching under Shanahan. In Green Bay, Samuel would find a system with familiar roots and would be able to catch passes from the reigning back-to-back MVP on a team with championship aspirations.
Kansas City Chiefs
Cap space: $18.2 million
Draft capital: Pick nos. 29, 30, 50, 62, 94
Hill is gone, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Valdes-Scantling are in. Coach Andy Reid is known for creating exciting, productive passing games, and arming Patrick Mahomes with Samuel would produce fireworks. Hill was used in a variety of roles within K.C.’s offense—he played 508 snaps in the slot and 520 out wide for the Chiefs last season, per Pro Football Focus—and Samuel could be positioned to similar usage. For all the league-altering moves that have happened in the AFC West, the Chiefs have yet to make a splash acquisition of their own yet. Perhaps Samuel could be the one. According to Josina Anderson, the Chiefs aren’t currently pursuing Samuel, though, with their sights set on the draft.
Cap space: $20 million
Draft capital: Pick nos. 42, 73
The Colts need to capitalize on the strong roster that GM Chris Ballard has assembled. That’s why they traded for Matt Ryan in March, and that’s why a deal for Samuel could also make sense. Indianapolis has one of the league’s better young receivers in Michael Pittman Jr., but its receiving group is pretty underwhelming aside from him and tight end Mo Alie-Cox. The Colts lack draft capital, which the Niners will likely look for in any potential deal. But Indianapolis boasts the immediate cap space to on-board Samuel. Adding him would make the Colts a strong contender out of the AFC South.
Cap space: $15.6 million
Draft capital: Pick nos. 15, 18, 51, 83
The Eagles have shown a willingness to invest in their receiving corps through the years, selecting J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Jalen Reagor, and DeVonta Smith in successive drafts. But Philadelphia is still missing something within its receiving ranks, and Samuel could help the unit take the next step along with providing a strong complement to Smith. The Eagles have already loaded up on premium picks in next year’s draft, so perhaps they consider giving up one of their two first-rounders from this year to acquire Samuel. It would be the biggest show of faith in quarterback Jalen Hurts yet and would give the third-year passer a true opportunity to prove he can be the franchise’s long-term QB.
Cap space: $3 million
Draft capital: Pick nos. 8, 43, 58, 74, 82
With Calvin Ridley suspended, Atlanta’s receiving group could certainly use a jolt. Samuel would give coach Arthur Smith a big-play wideout capable of being used in the Swiss Army knife manner that led to Cordarrelle Patterson’s renaissance campaign. (As long as Samuel would be OK taking on that role again.) Atlanta is in the middle of a rebuild and faces a long road back to being competitive, but the Falcons are among the most obvious WR-needy teams in the NFL.
Cap space: $18 million
Draft capital: Picks nos. 2, 32, 34, 66, 97
In terms of culture fit, it makes perfect sense why Lions coach Dan Campbell would love to add a player like Samuel, who averaged 4.1 yards after contact per carry last season. But the big question would be whether or not Detroit should be willing to sink big money into Samuel. This offseason, the Lions have already added D.J. Chark and Josh Reynolds to the fold after enjoying an outstanding rookie year from Amon-Ra St. Brown and surprising production out of Kalif Raymond.
Cap space: $24.6 million
Draft capital: Pick nos. 3, 13, 37, 68, 80
Per The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami, the Texans could be a team to monitor in the receiver market ahead of the draft. Houston just re-signed Brandin Cooks to a two-year extension worth $39.8 million ($36 million guaranteed), but could continue to surround second-year QB Davis Mills with talent on the outside. Still, even though Houston currently boasts the third-most available cap space, it might be unlikely with the Texans rebuilding under general manager Nick Caserio. Recently retired Houston Chronicle writer John McClain appeared to shut down the idea of trading for Samuel Wednesday afternoon, tweeting that giving the receiver “a gargantuan contract” at this time doesn’t seem likely considering Houston likes its current receiving group.