FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Joe Douglas had to tread carefully about the subject of exploring a trade for 49ers star receiver Deebo Samuel, lest he violate the NFL’s anti-tampering policy that prohibits discussing players from other teams. But it doesn’t take an Ivy League education to read between the lines as Douglas responded to a question about his interest.
He said he couldn’t “get into specifics” about a player on another team’s roster, but then added, “If the right opportunity presents itself, we are going to be aggressive.”
Translation: You’d better believe trading for Samuel is on the table.
As well it should be.
If Douglas was in the mix until the very end in the Tyreek Hill trade discussions with Kansas City, then he’ll do his due diligence with Samuel. Or any other high-profile veteran receiver who might be available in the days leading up to next week’s draft.
Douglas has made it very clear that he’ll do whatever it takes to make his roster playoff-worthy as soon as this season, and acquiring Samuel, one of the most uniquely gifted players in today’s NFL, would go a long way toward giving the Jets a chance to take that next step.
Will it happen? Too soon to tell. While Douglas certainly has the draft capital to make a deal work, there’s no telling whether he can swing a deal with the 49ers for their most valuable offensive player. Douglas currently has two top-10 picks (fourth and 10th overall) and a pair of second-round choices, and there’s enough there to make an enticing offer.
That said, the 49ers appear unwilling so far to accede to Samuel’s demands to be traded. He’s heading into the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, and they can theoretically control his rights through the 2023 season by applying the franchise tag next year. But as we’ve seen more and more with players expressing discontent with their situations, teams are accommodating their desire to play elsewhere — see: Hill, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Davante Adams, etc.
While Samuel hasn’t publicly aired his specific grievances against the 49ers, other than the obvious desire for a deal north of $20 million a year, there could be other factors at play, including how the team deploys him in the offense. Samuel is one of the most versatile players in the game, with the ability to play receiver and running back — he’s often called a “wide back.” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has found creative ways to get him the football, and it was a big reason the 49ers got as far as the NFC Championship Game before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Rams.
Shanahan is not eager to give up that kind of offensive weapon, and there is still a chance he and Samuel can reconcile whatever differences they might have, including contractual issues. But Samuel appears dug in, and if the 49ers decide to take what they can get and move on, then Douglas will have the Jets in play.
But even then, there’s no guarantee he can complete a deal. After all, Samuel would be going to a team that finished 4-13 last year, has uncertainty at quarterback with Zach Wilson going into his second season and is still light years behind the elite teams of the AFC. Samuel offered a potential hint of his preferred destination by “liking” a tweet of him going to Dallas, but the Cowboys have severe salary-cap problems that already led to the trade of Pro Bowl wideout Amari Cooper to Cleveland.
So yes, uncertainty persists, both about the 49ers’ plans and the market for Samuel. But there is no hint of ambivalence when it comes to the Jets’ desire to add talented players to Wilson’s offense. Douglas has been aggressive in his pursuit of players, even if he swung and missed on Hill, who clearly preferred to play in Miami. If the Seahawks are willing to part company with DK Metcalf — and it doesn’t appear to be the case right now — then Douglas will be in the mix there, too.
But Samuel is the most likely receiver in play, and Douglas has the picks and the cash to make it happen. If the 49ers and Samuel are willing partners, then the Jets will be that much better should Douglas pull off a deal.
Trader Joe’s time is now.