It is mid-April, which means the NFL Draft is a couple of weeks away, OTAs are around the corner, and Week 1 is a mere five months away. Besides the draft, most teams have made their major offseason moves. Several record-breaking contracts have been signed since this offseason, and a few young stars have certainly noticed. ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, and Terry McLaurin will not be taking part in any on the field work in the coming months without new contracts.
All three players were drafted outside of the first round and are on the final year of their rookie contracts. Also, these are three of the best young wide receivers in the NFL, and they have seen the money that Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams got paid. I’m going to make the ridiculously obvious case on why Samuel, Brown, and McLaurin have clearly outperformed their non-first round rookie contracts — or first round contracts had they been selected earlier— and as they enter their fourth seasons deserve some financial security.
I don’t know what the San Francisco 49ers are thinking here. Samuel might be the best player in the entire NFL. I’m including quarterbacks, Aaron Donald, everyone. He caught 77 passes last season and ran the ball 59 times. This is not some fun wrinkle to the 49ers’ offense, like William “The Refrigerator” Perry playing fullback for the Chicago Bears in 1985. Not only is Samuel the 49ers top wide receiver, he is second on the team in rushing yards and their leader in rushing touchdowns. He finds time to average 6.2 yards per carry on the ground and score eight touchdowns, all while averaging 18.2 yards per reception and hauling in 1,405 receiving yards.
How is this possible? For one, the man’s name is Deebo. No one, especially professional football players, is calling another human being Deebo — regardless of what his parents put on the birth certificate — unless he earns it. This 6-foot, 215 pound bowling ball with a V8 engine led the entire NFL in yards after contact. That’s right, it wasn’t Derrick Henry, it wasn’t Jonathan Taylor, it was Deebo Samuel, the guy whose longest reception was 83 yards. He is the ultimate weapon, and there’s no way the San Francisco 49ers go on that late season run, and win that Week 18 game against the Los Angeles Rams without him. Of all the non-quarterbacks who should be shown the decency of not having to fight for an early contract extension, Samuel should be first in line.
When the Tennessee Titans are healthy, they have a roster as good as any in football. While the king of that roster is Derrick Henry, he would be facing 11-man boxes without Brown. Since the Titans selected Brown out of Ole Miss in 2019, they have not missed the playoffs, and it was his five catches for 142 yards and a touchdown that kept the Titans in that Divisional Round playoff game that they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Brown has tallied 1,000-plus yards in two of his first three seasons. The only reason that it wasn’t a third is because he missed four games in 2021 due to injury. He still averaged 13.8 yards per reception. For all of the time that Henry missed this season, the Titans were still able to secure the best record in the AFC. Much of that has to do with Brown. He missed three consecutive games near the end of the season, but when he returned in Week 15 the Titans won their last three games. This offense can no longer depend on Derrick Henry carrying the ball more than 300 times per season. It has to diversify and right now the Titans have no better options than one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
The Washington Commanders are certainly a cesspool of a franchise, but their one consistent bright spot has been McLaurin. Not only has the front office been a mess, but there hasn’t been a consistent face behind center in Washington since the habitually franchise-tagged Kirk Cousins. None of those problems, however, have affected McLaurin on the field. Without anything close to a Pro-Bowl quarterback, the best left tackle in the NFL refusing to play for Washington, and McLaurin being the only player to circle on opposing teams’ scouting reports, he still produces.
Last season McLaurin caught 77 passes for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 13.7 yards per catch. For his career he’s averaging 13.9 yards per catch and has never averaged less than 12.9 in a season. He is a true big-play threat on a team that has no others on offense. The team’s second and third leaders in receptions are running backs J.D. McKissic and Antonio Gibson. There is no reason to watch Washington play other than to hope for a big play from McLaurin, especially last season with injuries to pass rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young. If nothing else, signing McLaurin would bring some positive PR to a franchise that has had none recently, outside of a standing ovation for Alex Smith after he returned from a devastating leg injury, and there is no Hollywood ending to that other than him simply taking the field.