SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The soft deadline for the San Francisco 49ers to trade disgruntled receiver Deebo Samuel — the NFL draft — has come and gone with Samuel still a member of the team from which he has requested a trade. Still, plenty of work remains if the Niners and Samuel are going to fix whatever is broken.
“There’s certain things that people got to go through,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “There’s certain things everyone is trying to get and trying to do, and you see what you can and you work from there. You can work out anything. Hopefully, when this is all said and done, we’ll get the best thing for the Niners, best thing for Deebo, and hopefully that’s the same thing because we’d love to keep going how we’ve been. But we know that’s in front of us right now.”
The 49ers have said they have no intention of trading Samuel. General manager John Lynch was clear about that on April 25 when he said he couldn’t imagine a scenario in which he’d be willing to deal his star offensive weapon. Shanahan struck a similar tone on Friday. Neither denied that other teams called to check on Samuel, but Shanahan said nobody was “remotely close” to swaying San Francisco into a deal.
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But just because the Niners don’t want to deal Samuel doesn’t mean his stance has changed. Which means it’s up to the Niners to figure out how to make Samuel happy. It’s why Shanahan and Lynch spoke with more cautious optimism than confidence about Samuel’s future with the team.
Samuel has not yet revealed his grievance(s) with the Niners, and Lynch and Shanahan have declined to get into specifics other than for Lynch to say he has spoken to Samuel recently. Shanahan has not.
“There’s lots of things that play into that and those are things that we’ll discuss with Deebo, that we have, we’ll continue to,” Shanahan said. “And I’d love to share it all with everybody so people can understand more, but that’s really not right to Deebo, to the 49ers and hopefully we can work this out and someday it’ll clear up for you guys.”
The size and guarantee of Samuel’s forthcoming contract extension likely are at the heart of it. Samuel will enter the final year of his rookie contract counting just south of $5 million against the 2022 salary cap.
These things always come back to money. Even if Samuel was unhappy splitting time between running back and receiver last season, it’s reasonable to think the Niners (or any team) paying him a significant amount of money next season and into the future would want to use Samuel in the way that made him an All-Pro in 2021.
One complicating factor for a future contract is there aren’t many players to use as a comparison to Samuel. Percy Harvin is probably the closest, and he, like Samuel, had the best season of his career during his third year in 2011. Harvin got his big second contract after his fourth season and a trade to the Seattle Seahawks, but he couldn’t reach the same heights. He played in just 10 games in the two seasons following his breakout third year and never got another significant contract before retiring in 2017.
2011 Percy Harvin*2021 Deebo SamuelReceptions8777Rush5259Touches139136Contacted127126*-Played 10 total games in following 2 seasons
Considering that, it’s fair to think Samuel would want some sort of “wide back” tax because of the additional toll the role takes on his body. Samuel took nearly eight hits per game on offensive touches last season, most among NFL receivers. That number was closer to 5.5 during his first two NFL seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Of course, this cuts both ways. Samuel might see his best chance to cash in if he continues in his current role. The 49ers might look at the hits he takes and see salary-cap trouble.
Which begs the question of what a deal could look like? On the draft’s first night, the Tennessee Titans traded receiver A.J. Brown to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles promptly signed Brown, who has the same agent as Samuel, to a reported four-year, $100 million deal with $57 million in guarantees. That deal could offer a jumping-off point for the Niners and Samuel, though Samuel’s additional value as a runner likely means he would command more, especially in terms of guaranteed money.
“I think all these situations are unique,” Lynch said. “You’re obviously aware of what’s going on around the league, but we were focused on our situation. … We believe that we can find a way through this and that we’ll all be good. We’re encouraged about that.”
This could be headed for a summer stare-down. Samuel has not reported for any of the offseason training program, though those are voluntary. The next mandatory team activity is the June 7-9 minicamp, but then nothing until training camp opens in late July. Could Samuel hold out if no deal has been struck by then? Sure, but if he doesn’t report for camp on time, he would risk losing an accrued season that would make him a restricted free agent after next season instead of unrestricted and lead to daily fines.
There’s enough time between now and then that the Niners remain hopeful time will heal whatever wounds exist and cooler heads and even colder, hard cash will prevail in the form of a suitable outcome for all involved.
“You try not to overreact one way or the other and try to be patient with it because emotions can get high with people, especially when you care about people and a lot is riding on it,” Shanahan said. “But that’s what you’ve got to make sure you don’t react to. And you’ve got to make sure when it’s all said and done, first and foremost, you do what’s right for the organization, and then second of all you try to get a win-win for both sides.”