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ESPN proposes a trade between the 49ers and Texans

A player for player swap

San Francisco 49ers v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

ESPN’s Field Yates recently proposed a handful of trades that he felt would benefit both teams. While we’ve been talking about the possibility about the San Francisco 49ers trading for Jamal Adams, ESPN believes the reigning NFC Champs should deal their 2018 second-round pick:

San Francisco 49ers trade WR Dante Pettis to Houston Texans for WR Keke Coutee

Why the 49ers do it: Pettis couldn’t find consistent playing time in 2019 with San Francisco, despite a relatively thin receiver depth chart. He played fewer than 30% of the total offensive snaps. He’s a dynamic and electric player with the football in his hands (he’s one of the greatest returners in NCAA history), but patience appears to be running thin with the 49ers.

Coutee — taken in the 2018 draft, like Pettis — provides San Francisco with a shifty slot option who would resume learning under wide receivers coach Wes Welker, a fan of his from their time together in Houston in 2018. The 49ers relied on a committee approach at the slot position last season (Kendrick Bourne led them with 180 total slot snaps), but Coutee, who has 50 catches in just 15 career games, would handle that role adeptly.

Why the Texans do it: Coutee is buried on the depth chart as things presently stand, with Houston just signing Randall Cobb to a major three-year, $27 million deal. The troika of Brandin Cooks, Will Fuller V, and Cobb should make up the primary starters, and it’s hard to find a game-day role for Coutee without any return experience at the pro level.

In Pettis, Houston would add yet another speed receiver who could immediately impact the team on punt and kickoff returns. There has been speculation that Kenny Stills (due $6.975 million this year) could be a cap casualty (a Deshaun Watson contract impacts their cap outlook going forward), and Pettis would be a more affordable option (due just about $2.2 million over the next two seasons) to bring depth and playmaking upside. For both wideouts in this deal, a change of scenery might be just what the doctor ordered.

I agree that a fresh start for Pettis makes sense, and with the logic “if he couldn’t make it happen in 2019, how will it work in 2020?” I still believe Pettis—especially if Richie James is hurt through the preseason—can regain his confidence by handling the punt return duties. A few big returns could lead to more snaps on offense. Kyle Shanahan then gives Pettis more opportunities, and Pettis returns to his rookie form. All of that would require Pettis no longer in Kyle’s dog house.

Coutee is a big-time athlete who has averaged 6.4 yards after the catch (Pettis averaged 2.1) and only had a 2.8% drop percentage (Pettis’s was 12.5% in 2019.) Coutee spent the majority of the time in the slot with the Texans last year, where he played 247 of his 338 snaps in the slot. Most of Coutee’s damage came underneath. Only six of Coutee’s 35 targets came over ten yards. Coutee adds speed and has shown he can turn a short screen pass into an explosive play.

If I’m John Lynch, I don’t entertain this trade as it doesn’t improve my team. Coutee doesn’t add any special teams value, and he’s not going to beat out the guys ahead of Pettis on the depth chart. There’s less of a projection with Pettis, who, for some reason, doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt as others. A fresh start for Pettis makes sense only if the coaching staff, “giving up on him.” I don’t believe they are, and there’s no reason to. Pettis is too talented to let go for next to nothing.