Well, things have certainly gone off the rails. Depending on who, or what, you believe, things between the 49ers and Deebo Samuel have soured because of money or not because of money. Because of usage, or not because of usage. Regardless of the actual reason for the discontent, things clearly aren’t good right now. In today’s Instant Reaction podcast, we try and figure out how that happened and who deserves the most blame for the alienation of the team’s best offensive skill player?
In my opinion, it’s hard not to put most of the blame on the 49ers’ brain trust. Money is the simplest and most logical explanation for hurt feelings during any contract discussion. Teams always try and save every last penny they can during every negotiation, and more often than not, that leads to players getting upset. We all know how negotiations work by now. If you’re the buyer, the 49ers in this case, you start with a low offer knowing you’re likely going to have to come up from there to get a deal done. If you’re the seller, Deebo Samuel, you demand an outrageous price hoping that you’ll get it but ultimately being willing to settle for something lower to make a deal.
What the 49ers should have understood, however, is that players take each and every contract offer personally. While the team may look at them as one part of a long game that usually involves multiple moves towards the middle, players look at each offer as a direct valuation of their contributions. So, low-balling a player who carried the offense in both the regular and the post-season by essentially playing two positions was only going to piss that player off. While that initial frustration may have been something that cooled down in a normal offseason, we are not in a normal offseason.
We have already seen both Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill get traded after contract talks broke down. So while maybe in normal circumstances, things wouldn’t have jumped right to a trade demand, they did now because of the unprecedented movement we’ve seen at Samuel’s exact position over the last two months. Negotiations are not made in a vacuum, and the 49ers should have known that the wide receiver movement we’ve seen would affect how Deebo reacted to their offers.
There are also reports out there suggesting that money isn’t the root of the issue and that the problems have more to do with usage than anything else. That seems hard to believe. Is Kyle Shanahan so stubborn that he would risk losing his best offensive weapon simply because he couldn’t play him at running back? I suppose it’s possible, but that appears highly unlikely. Shanahan knows Deebo’s value as a pure wide receiver. In case you don’t remember how incredible that was:
Deebo Samuel’s value is not at all dependent on his usage as a RB— Jordan Elliott (@JLeeElliott) April 20, 2022
Samuel was on pace for 1874 receiving yards in 2021 before his role was altered halfway through the season
His 17 game pace through eight games
18 yards per reception
Deebo himself did appear to embrace the role last season, but it’s entirely possible he was only willing to do that on a temporary basis. Team Deebo could have let the 49ers know this offseason that Samuel was willing to do what was necessary during the year last year to help the team win, but that was not going to be the case going forward. Whatever the truth may be, it’s not likely that a disagreement purely on usage would be enough to sever the relationship between team and player. Deebo is too valuable at his primary responsibility to make usage a hill worth dying on.
On the flip side, it’s also entirely possible that Team Deebo could be demanding $30 million per year and refusing to move off of that number. They may look at things and say, “Deebo was an all-pro wide receiver last year, so he deserves top of the market money at that position. However, because he can also dominate as a running back, you have to put a cherry on top and give us a little extra for that.”
While it’s still possible that the situation can be resolved before a trade has to happen, it’s undeniable that things aren’t in a good place right now. While it might be easier to point the finger at one side or the other, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Regardless of who is to blame, however, the results could be a parting of the ways between a player and a play-caller that appeared to be a match made in heaven.