John Lynch once again mentioned the contracts for Deebo Samuel and Nick Bosa at the Combine this week. He again said how important both players are to the 49ers. On today’s Gold Standard podcast, we asked Grant Cohn about how he thinks those contract talks will play themselves out.
“Nick Bosa can just write his own check. Whatever he wants, the Niners will give him. Deebo is gonna get screwed. They can tag him for 18 million. Deebo’s gonna have to meet them in the middle. Bosa can get whatever he wants.
Deebo, good luck, man. Paraag [Marathe] is gonna lean on you, man, I feel so bad. You deserve to be the highest paid wide receiver in the league. I really do think you’re that good. When Trey Lance becomes the quarterback and you can run more than two routes you’re going to see it, but Paraag is gonna lean on you man, I’m sorry.”
Any new contract for Deebo is going to attempt to set the market at wide receiver. Right now, DeAndre Hopkins is the highest-paid receiver in the NFL, with an annual average value of $27.25 million. So unless Deebo magnanimously agrees to take less money, the cheaper option for the team is two years of the franchise tag.
If the 49ers wanted to play hardball, they could refuse to negotiate and let Deebo play out this season of his contract at $4.89 million. Then, they could apply the franchise tag to him for around 19 million dollars (it’s projected to be $18.5 for 2022). The year after that, they could apply the tag again, which would cost around $22.8 million.
That may seem like a steep price, but consider that the 49ers would have to pay that much anyway, even with a long-term extension. Samuel’s agent knows those numbers, too. They’d never agree to sign for less than what the 49ers would have to pay with the franchise tag because they know San Francisco would use the tag if Deebo refused to agree to a deal after this coming season.
At that point, the team would have a decision to make. Deebo would be 29 years old, and that would be an old 29, considering the physical nature of his playing style. Would the 49ers then want to commit long-term to a worn-down receiver entering the back nine of his career? Especially considering the top of the receiver market will be even more expensive by then?
For the record, thinking this way makes me feel like I need to take a shower. Deebo Samuel deserves to be paid at the top of the wide receiver market. He’s clearly earned it. However, teams don’t do that unless it’s absolutely necessary. It’s cold, and it’s calculating, but this is how front offices really look at contract negotiations - despite the nice things John Lynch has been saying lately.
So, the realistic options for Deebo are slim. He either finishes his contract and plays under the franchise tag for two years after that, or he accepts a below-market-value long-term offer from the team. True, Deebo could hold out, but the fines for doing so are significant, and the team can’t pay them back (unlike previous years).
He could also avoid holdout fines in 2023 by refusing to sign the franchise tag. Technically you don’t have a contract before you sign the franchise tag. So, if you refuse to sign that tag, you aren’t holding out. The downside of that, of course, is that you have to sit out for the season without earning any money. That’s what Le’Veon Bell did before signing with the Jets in 2019.
The 49ers would likely argue that they aren’t screwing anyone over because they’re simply playing by the rules of the system under which the owners and the NFLPA agreed to operate.
Good luck explaining that to Deebo, though.