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Why the 49ers can be patient with Deebo Samuel, unlike the Titans with A.J. Brown

Who would’ve thought that A.J. Brown will get traded first?

San Francisco 49ers v Tennessee Titans Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

While the majority of the NFL universe expected Deebo Samuel to be the one on the move come Thursday night, it was actually his training partner A.J. Brown that was surprisingly traded from the Tennessee Titans to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Eagles acquired Brown for Pick No. 18 and a third-round pick this season — which I think would’ve infuriated 49ers’ fans had that been the trade compensation for Samuel.

Samuel and Brown have been tied at the hip for the last few weeks, given that they were both drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, have put up similar statistics, and also share an agent in Tory Dandy.

The duo has gone about their respective contract extensions in completely different ways, with Brown quietly voicing his contract demands to the Titans and Samuel publicly demanding a trade from the 49ers via ESPN’s Jeff Darlington.

Given that they share an agent, have a close relationship, and play a similarly bruising brand of football, I would imagine that Samuel and Brown both were looking for similar extensions in terms of average per year and total/fully guaranteed money.

Despite the public trade requests and all the commotion surrounding the 49ers’ All-Pro wide receiver, here’s why I think they can continue to be patient with him, unlike the Titans with A.J. Brown.

In 2023, the Tennessee Titans are $240,000 over the salary cap with 37 players under contract (not including a potential extension for Brown).

In 2023, the San Francisco 49ers are $42M under the salary cap, with 24 players under contract. This also doesn’t include an additional $25.5M in salary cap space that can be rolled over into 2023 if the 49ers release/trade Jimmy Garoppolo before Week 1.

San Francisco had the ability to be patient and call Deebo Samuel’s bluff because they have budgeted $22-24M annually for a Samuel extension. Samuel needed to publicly voice his frustrations ahead of Thursday in order for potential suitors to make their offers, but the 49ers didn’t have to seriously entertain them unless they got a “king’s ransom.”

The other potential concern for the 49ers could have been a Brown extension that exceeded Tyreek Hill or Davante Adams’ extensions — but that wasn’t the case either.

Brown signed a new deal with the Eagles that gives him a four-year extension, worth a total of $100M, including $57M in total guarantees (which includes guarantees for injuries, I presume).

Hill’s new extension includes an annual average of $30M, including $72M in total guarantees and $52.5M in full guarantees. Adams’ new extension includes an annual average of $28M, including $65M in total guarantees and $22.8 in full guarantees.

Brown’s numbers come in below both of these deals, setting a good middle ground for contract talks between Samuel and the 49ers.

Ultimately, the Titans were in a position of desperation. Their salary cap situation is tied up with highly-paid defensive players and Ryan Tannehill. The 49ers also pay some of their foundational players' big money, but the difference is that they aren’t paying a quarterback north of $30M against the cap in 2023 because of Trey Lance.

That flexibility allows them the patience to work on a contract negotiation with Samuel while mending that relationship back to where it was in 2021 when the Wide Back was dominating opponents on the field.

I don’t know where both parties go from here — there are clearly some hurt feelings over contract disputes and other reasons that haven’t been publicly disclosed. But, they now have until training camp in July to see if they can mend fences and come to a long-term extension.