These 10 teams could consider Deebo Samuel trade – but should think long and hard first | Opinion
Deebo Samuel was every bit an All-Pro in 2021 – that's why he got my vote (along with Cooper Kupp and Davante Adams) over other deserving players like Justin Jefferson and Tyreek Hill. I thought Samuel was transcendent and unselfish – not to mention highly, highly productive for a San Francisco 49ers offense that attempted the fourth-fewest passes in the NFL.
And yet ...
► Samuel led the league with 18.2 yards per catch (his 77 receptions netting 1,405 yards and 6 TDs).
► His 2,061 yards from scrimmage (including playoffs) were the most ever by a Niners pass catcher in one season. And, yes, Hall of Famer and original GOAT Jerry Rice played on this team for 16 years.
► Samuel's 72 rushing yards in the 49ers' wild-card win over the Dallas Cowboys were a playoff record for a wideout during the Super Bowl era (since 1966).
► His eight rushing TDs in the regular season were the most ever by a wide receiver. Overall, he averaged 6.2 yards per carry, his 59 rushes producing 365 yards.
You had to admire Samuel's willingness to do it all for a team that had a running back depth chart often in tatters – he was San Francisco's No. 2 rusher in 2021 – didn't have TE George Kittle for three weeks and saw WR Brandon Aiyuk fail to produce much of anything in the first two months of his sophomore season.
But we learned Tuesday that Samuel wants out, requesting a trade from the 49ers as he enters the final year of his rookie contract, one scheduled to pay nearly $4 million in 2022 – a clear-cut bargain given his talent and the stratospheric contracts wideouts are suddenly signing.
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But you know that old saying about being careful what you wish for? Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has leveraged Samuel's value as a wingback type player – or "wide back" as Samuel has dubbed his position – since he was a second-round pick in 2019, deploying him as a "get the ball in his hands by any means" weapon other teams have since attempted to replicate.
That doesn't mean Samuel would command the contract (or trade compensation) of a player like Adams or Hill, who both returned first- and second-round picks in two of this offseason's blockbusters. Samuel isn't necessarily the pure, polished receiver his "peers" are, and it remains to be seen if a guy often utilized more like a tailback than a wideout will get dinged in contractual negotiations given some of the hard yards on his odometer (Samuel's already missed 11 games in three seasons and only has one topflight campaign).
And though several clubs have a clear need at receiver, the 2022 draft is deep on both quality and quantity at the position – players like Ohio State's Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, Alabama's Jameson Williams, USC's Drake London and Arkansas' Treylon Burks, who's often projected as a plus-sized Samuel. They're not proven but are far cheaper than the $20+ million average annual salaries Hill ($30 million per year), Adams ($28 million per year), Stefon Diggs ($24 million annually) and others have recently landed. And hard to see Samuel settling for something closer to the $20 million per players like Mike Williams, injured Chris Godwin and DJ Moore have agreed to.
But if Samuel and the 49ers, who aren't scheduled to draft in the first round this year, can't reconcile? Here are 10 teams that are worth engaging in trade talks:
A team that's lost WRs Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley (at least temporarily) and Russell Gage in the past year is in dire need at the position. Furthermore, coach Arthur Smith helped turn A.J. Brown, a player whose skills are similar to Samuel's, into a near-instant star in Tennessee. Atlanta would be a sort of homecoming for Samuel, a South Carolina native and former Gamecock, however his desire for an immediate payday could be complicated by a tight Falcons salary cap that doesn't balloon until 2023. But if he's willing to be a bit patient on the financial side, Atlanta, which owns the No. 8 selection and two second-rounders, could submit multiple trade offers that could entice Shanahan and 49ers GM John Lynch.
They desperately need to get more help for Justin Fields, and Samuel's propensity for turning short catches into long gainers would be one way to build the young quarterback's confidence in Year 2. Rookie GM Ryan Poles has the financial wherewithal to get a deal done with Samuel and two second-rounders this year that might form the underpinning of a potential deal.
If receiver is a need for them after trading Amari Cooper, it should be somewhat down the list – certainly behind offensive and defensive line. But owner Jerry Jones has a history of making splashy swaps for pass catchers (see: Cooper, Joey Galloway, Roy Williams) and is just a few months removed from personally witnessing Samuel tear his team apart in the playoffs. If Jones gets infatuated, he certainly won't flinch at spending a first-rounder for Samuel before cutting him a large check.
They've got the cap room, draft assets – five selections in the top 97 – and, despite the short-term contracts given to DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds in free agency, the admitted need for a dangerous receiving companion opposite Amon-Ra St. Brown. Sending San Francisco the 32nd overall pick and a third-rounder seems like a very equitable exchange.
Green Bay Packers
One week after sticking it to Dallas, Samuel's 9-yard run – his last touch on a bitterly cold, 83-yard night – on third-and-7 in the final minute of the divisional round in Lambeau Field was the virtual death knell for the Pack, setting up Robbie Gould's game-winning field goal. Nearly three months later, with Adams now off to Las Vegas, Aaron Rodgers and Co. find themselves in dire need of a top-tier receiver yet have a pair of picks in both Rounds 1 and 2 after making their stunning deal with the Raiders. The big question might be whether Lynch and Shanahan would send Samuel to a team that's lost to the 49ers in the playoffs four times in the past 10 years.
Kansas City Chiefs
Like the Pack, they have two first-rounders and two seconds along with the cap flexibility to give Samuel the extension he wants. Like the Pack, they have a huge hole at receiver after dealing Hill. Unlike the Pack, they don't stand in the 49ers' way among the NFC's upper echelon.
New England Patriots
They recently acquired WR DeVante Parker yet still seem to feature four No. 2-caliber receivers. Bill Belichick would certainly love Samuel's toughness, versatility and ability to dictate coverage and consequentially make life easier for those other wideouts. The fact the Pats could also send the Niners a capable pass catcher as part of the compensation package going to San Francisco could help grease the skids to a potential arrangement.
New Orleans Saints
Even if WR Michael Thomas, an elite possession receiver when he's healthy, returns to All-Pro form in 2022, this offense might be one difference maker shy of making serious noise this season in the seemingly depleted NFC. But surrounding QB Jameis Winston with Samuel, Thomas, RB Alvin Kamara and a top-five defense could make this team extremely dangerous. Now armed with two mid first-rounders following this month's trade with the Eagles, GM Mickey Loomis has ample ammo to barter.
New York Jets
Hoping to improve the supporting cast around young QB Zach Wilson, they lost out to the Dolphins in the derby for Hill. Samuel might not quite be on Hill's level in terms of route running or pure speed, but he can be just as dangerous – and also worked with NYJ offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur during his first two seasons. With five of the first 69 picks – with a pair of early ones in both Round 1 and 2 – the Jets are definitely well-heeled in terms of their ability to put proposals in front of San Francisco's front office.
Despite the deal with New Orleans, they still possess the 15th and 18th slots in the first round ... and one more playmaker might be the ideal addition in order to accelerate QB Jalen Hurts' development. The powerfully built Samuel would pair nicely with WR DeVonta "Slim Reaper" Smith.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deebo Samuel trade: 10 NFL teams that could be fits for 49ers' star WR