The 49ers and Deebo Samuel are locked in a contract negotiation dance.
So isn’t it fitting that Samuel, a one-of-a-kind player on the field, has taken a unique position off it, as well?
ESPN reported Wednesday that the 49ers’ All-Pro wide receiver/running back/offensive weapon is no longer engaging in contract extension talks and has requested a trade from San Francisco.
Subsequent reporting from NFL Network says that “money is not at the root of” Samuel’s trade request.
What was a standard contract negotiation procedure has skipped a few steps. Things have dramatically escalated. We’re at DEFCON 1.
But no matter what the next move is, this whole saga deserves a heaping dose of skepticism and scorn.
This contract showdown is unbecoming to the 49ers, whose offseason was already defined by failure.
But it’s unbecoming to Samuel as well. Negotiating a new contact is tough — it becomes even more difficult when it is unnecessarily dragged into the public domain and made all the messier.
Yes, everyone looks like a fool here, because the 49ers don’t have to do anything to keep Samuel in red and gold for the next few years.
Yes, Samuel might want to be traded, but that doesn’t mean the 49ers have to trade him. And make no mistake, Samuel might say it’s not about the money, but more money can make this headache for the 49ers go away.
NFL teams have the upper hand in negotiations with any non-quarterback in the league. Yes, even for a player as special as Samuel.
So the do-it-all offensive weapon is trying to level the playing field with this trade demand. While it’s not a good play, it’s his best play. Given the lopsided nature of these kinds of negotiations, it might even be his only play.
It might just be enough to force the Niners into making a bet on Samuel in the coming days.
It certainly puts the Niners in a no-win scenario. The 49ers can’t afford to trade Samuel ahead of this upcoming season, but can they afford to pay him his market rate for the next four or five?
That bet could be in the form of a massive new contract with the 49ers. Yes, that’s still very much on the table. Samuel is looking for a market-rate deal that would make him the 10th NFL receiver to be paid more than $20 million per season. He is set to make $4.89 million in 2022.
The bet could be the 49ers doing nothing and dragging this drama into training camp. It’s hardly ideal, but it’s possible.
But it also could be that the Niners bet against Samuel and trade him. Grab some draft picks, maybe some players and let some other team sign him to a mega-contract.
I don’t think there’s a right answer. There’s too much risk no matter which route the Niners go.
At the core of Samuel’s trade demand and the 49ers’ big-money conundrum are the wide receiver’s versatility and his role in the San Francisco offense.
Data-driven decision-making has taken over every big-money sport in the last two decades. Treating games like hedge funds has ruined baseball, redefined the game of basketball, and created incredible upsets in world soccer.
Even football has been touched by the analytics movement, too.
And while there’s still plenty of debate over fourth-down decisions and the optimal number of times to throw the ball in a game, the old-school football world and the new analytics-driven regimes can agree on one thing: Don’t pay running backs.
They simply take too many hits. The toll on their bodies is too high. Inevitably, production diminishes while contracts remain in place, often escalating in value as the years progress.
Once the premier position in the sport, running backs have become downright disposable in the NFL.
And a great deal of Samuel’s value to the 49ers comes from the fact that he can play running back.
Now, it must be noted that Samuel embraced the role, dubbing himself a “wide back” and repeatedly saying he was happy with his usage in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
In all, Samuel had 136 touches from scrimmage last season and totaled 1,770 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was everything to the Niners in 2021 — unquestionably the most valuable player on a team that went to the NFC Championship Game.
If the 49ers trade that away this offseason, they could find themselves out of Super Bowl contention.
But that doesn’t mean the Niners should give Samuel whatever he wants.
Past performance doesn’t equal future results. And new contracts are only paying for the latter.
Not only was Samuel lining up as a true running back at times last season, he was also taking serious hits over the middle of the field nearly every time he caught the ball.
In 2021, Samuel led the NFL in yards per catch with 18.2 — an incredible number.
He did that despite having an average depth of target of 8.1 yards.
And while Samuel is fast, he wasn’t always outrunning defenders to get those extra yards after the catch.
No, he was running through defensive backs and linebackers. Even when he wasn’t in the backfield, he was effectively playing running back in the 49ers’ offense. That hardly seems sustainable.
For a player that entered the league with longevity concerns and who has already missed more than 20 percent of the Niners’ regular-season games in his three-year career, this wear-and-tear is an even bigger problem. It’s likely the cause of Samuel’s desire to be paid as soon as possible.
From the Niners’ perspective, you can’t forget that the majority of those games Samuel missed came in a 2020 season where Samuel — as his college coach Will Muschamp predicted — came into training camp overweight and nursed injuries all season. Shanahan has openly discussed Samuel’s weight countless times since drafting him. It’s no doubt a serious concern for the Niners.
So now, after coming into camp in great shape and subsequently one of the best players in football for one season, Samuel is asking for All-Pro money for the next four or five years.
Tricky doesn’t even begin to describe the complexity of this situation.
Which means that the 49ers’ decision is going to come down to trust.
Samuel is asking the 49ers to make a $100 million bet on him. He’s asking them to trust that he’ll repeat his 2021 season in 2022 and beyond.
Do the 49ers trust him?
Posturing and ultimatums aside, the next move is the 49ers. What they do will provide us with the answer to that key question and shape this team for years to come.
Source: Culled From Paradise Post.