The 49ers aren't going to afford both Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk at the same time, and ESPN wanted to remind fans of that.
The benefit of rookie contracts after a player is selected in the NFL Draft is that they are cheap. And if a team winds up hitting a home run on a marquee position, such as quarterback, that team can load up on talent across the board as long as the player is still on that cheap rookie deal.
A problem with rookie contracts? They eventually expire.
The San Francisco 49ers have already been experiencing what it's like being a good team. It's not the first time you've read this here, but good teams are typically comprised of good players. And good players want to be paid accordingly.
This has forced the Niners into some tough choices over the last few years. Even during this offseason, they've been forced to bid farewell to more expensive players like right tackle Mike McGlinchey and defensive back Jimmie Ward while opting to go with cheaper options.
49ers likely can't afford both Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel on hefty contracts, per ESPN
Another player to whom the 49ers bade farewell this offseason, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, led to having three other quarterbacks -- Trey Lance, Brock Purdy and eventually Sam Darnold -- on cheap contracts, the prior two still on their rookie deals.
So, for now, having both Aiyuk and Samuel on the roster isn't too challenging even though Samuel received his hefty payout entering 2022 in the form of a three-year extension worth up to $71.55 million, according to Over the Cap.
While the Niners can still afford to stockpile the roster while their quarterbacks aren't earning too much, EDGE Nick Bosa's pending extension is likely to break the bank and should make him the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history.
That'll make it awfully tough to retain both Samuel and Aiyuk, which is what ESPN's Nick Wagoner recently argued:
"The Niners have kept Aiyuk and picked up his fifth-year rookie option before the May 1 deadline, which guarantees him a $14.124 million base salary for the 2024 season if he doesn't sign an extension before then. Therein lies the 49ers' predicament. Traditionally, they prefer not to sign first-round picks to an extension until after their fourth season. That will happen later this summer with defensive end Nick Bosa, who will likely become the league's highest-paid defender when his deal is done. If Aiyuk is able to build on the 78 catches, 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns he posted in 2022, there's a legitimate argument that he's not only San Francisco's best pure pass catcher but also one of the league's emerging receiver talents. Considering the rising cost of top wideouts, the Niners would theoretically have to decide between Samuel and Aiyuk."
Aiyuk actually led San Francisco in that aforementioned stat, and it's reasonable to argue that he is actually more valuable to the 49ers long term than Samuel, who does come with an injury and whose versatility was made a little less important after the 2022 midseason arrival of All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey.
But, the Niners don't have to decide now. Not yet at least.
Aiyuk's fifth-year option for 2024 has been picked up, but Samuel's contract will jump up from $8.65 million this year to a whopping $28.57 in 2024, too. While it's still a bit too soon to judge what San Francisco's financial and salary-cap situations will be like at that point, it's probably worth saying that a choice will have to be made between the two star receivers.
And it'll likely involve keeping one over the other.