Deebo Samuel’s emergence as a gadget-receiver was San Francisco’s equivalent to discovering they could channel electricity. With a defective quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo under center, Samuel changed the whole game for their offense and left defenses guessing.
However, Samuel’s breakout season came with a price. His rookie contract will expire after the 2022 season, but the Niners can franchise tag him for two more seasons. Yet, the Niners have reportedly been actively cooperating with his agent to work out an extension in the neighborhood of $25 million annually. Instead of following the route run by Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill, he has burned his bridges back into Levi’s Stadium’s home locker room.
Two weeks ago, Samuel joined a long line of stars raised on social media, and adults have taken to scrubbing their social media pages of references to their current teams while seeking new contracts. However, on Tuesday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter suggested that Samuel is the one who doesn’t want to do a deal to remain in San Francisco. Samuel’s brother logged onto Facebook and lobbed a Molotov cocktail into the discourse by leaking Samuel’s request for a trade.
On Wednesday, Samuel confirmed to ESPN’s Jeff Darlington that he was demanding a trade. It’s a surprising turn of events that’s added a new layer to an offseason that’s featured more plot twists than any in recent history. The trades of Hill, Adams, Russell Wilson, and a Saul Goodman-esque Tom Brady retirement scheme have shaken the entire NFL.
Samuel’s trade demands came out of left field. After leading the NFL in yards after the catch per reception, yards per route run on targets of 20-yards or more down the field, eclipsing the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a wide receiver, and finishing fifth in total receiving yardage, he was bound to seek more money.
Following his first All-Pro season in 2022, Samuel burst into the discussion of the NFL’s top wide receivers, and San Francisco intended to pay him like one.
While the specifics about Samuel’s issues with the front office are still murky, he’s miffed enough to cut off negotiations. Shanahan’s critical nature has created prickly relationships with players before, but there was no smoke to indicate a fire of this magnitude. It can’t be a desire to play for a winner. San Francisco is a storied franchise that has been to two conference championship games in the past three seasons. The Niners were a few minutes away from defeating Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl LIII and were tied with the Los Angeles Rams until Matt Gay’s field goal with 1:46 remaining flung their NFC West rivals into the Super Bowl.
There are some indications that San Francisco’s frequent usage of Samuel as a “wide back” could be at the root of his trade request. In 2021, he was primarily used in San Francisco as a highly effective screen pass specialist and running back because of their shoddy quarterback play.
According to FiveThirtyEight, 60 players have tallied 50-plus runs and 70-plus catches in a season. Among running backs, Samuel finished second in the league in yards after contact per attempt and second in the league in “breakaway,” which measures the percentage of a player’s rushing yards that come on runs of 15-yards or more. Running backs take the grounding and pounding, but their shelf lives are short. No receiver with Samuel’s value would want to spend his prime putting his long-term health on the line by platooning as a running back.
Samuel’s request may not be a glowing endorsement of his belief in the 49ers’ quarterback depth chart. As a rookie, Trey Lance appeared raw in limited snaps and Garoppolo played rotten when he wasn’t nursing injuries. A line of teams is already bending around the corner, waiting to slide an offer onto the 49ers table for Samuel, who reportedly hasn’t offered clues to where he prefers to play.