Now that the first round of the NFL Draft came and went without incident before another week and change allowed the dust to settle, it’s become clearer and clearer that Deebo Samuel will almost definitely be on the San Francisco 49ers’ roster for the foreseeable future.
By all accounts, a trade never even came close to materializing at the time it would most make sense for one to happen, and Deebo Samuel’s feelings about this remain, at best, unclear. Thus, the million-dollar question is, “Can these two sides find peace and move forward together?”
One of the smartest observations that I’ve ever heard about negotiating — or just about anything in general — is that the most successful negotiations should leave both sides a little bit uncomfortable. Always leave them wondering if they got the best of the bargain or if they gave up too much.
You might be thinking that’s a deeply glass half empty way to look at the concept of compromise, but welcome to the industrial sports entertainment complex. There’s money, pride, respect, and, oh yeah, money on the line. Discomfort comes with the job of doling out and signing contracts.
No matter what you believe about the dicey process that led up to the fever pitch around Deebo’s possible trade after he compiled one of the most singularly impressive seasons in the history of wide receivers, it’s safe to say that both sides have been made more than a little uncomfortable.
However, when it comes to keeping a superstar on your team and a team appropriately compensating you for your contributions, everyone can deal with extra media scrutiny and some cryptic social media posts to ensure the best possible outcome. “Some” might be an understatement. It might be so much chatter that overwhelms your entire draft class. Sorry, that’s the gig.
A deluge of mixed signals has poured out of the Deebo camp in the wake of the draft. Sure, he restocked the “Deebo Samuel is Back” shirt on his website, but Jeremy Fowler reported that Samuel remains “dug in” on his trade request. However, he did refollow the 49ers team account on Instagram. What does this all amount to? Hard to say.
The language that the 49ers’ two-headed brain trust has consistently used isn't hard to parse about a possible Deebo departure. They stated clearly in pre and post-draft press conferences that trading Deebo was not ideal, helpful, or preferable to having Deebo on the team.
Specifically, Kyle “I can’t guarantee that anybody in the world will be alive Sunday” Shanahan didn’t offer much more than a customary caveat about how they’re always looking for ways to better the team. That was before he hammered home his point by saying that giving up Deebo wouldn’t improve the team in the slightest.
Now that both sides have made their feelings known and are out in the open, there’s nothing to do but look backward to see how this will play out going forward. The most recent examples to point to were the previous two offseasons when the Niners agreed to extensions with George Kittle and Fred Warner as the start of training camp approached, which acted as a de facto deadline. It’s easy to imagine that the front office wanted to employ this established blueprint a third time, especially with Jimmy Garopollo and his salary still kicking around.
More likely than not, the timeline will be similar for Deebo this year, just for different reasons. The start of training camp will once again act as a backstop on contract talks, especially particularly contentious ones, because of new CBA rules. A player not reporting to camp on a rookie contract will not accrue a year of service time, meaning they will not become a free agent in 2023.
That’s a pretty powerful piece of leverage for a team to hold, and, as that theoretical inches closer to reality, it and the lack of pay might represent the ultimate deciding factor for a player on the verge of a holdout. This doesn’t even account for the mandatory 40,000-dollar-a-day fine per session of training camp missed.
Historically, holdouts tend to end amicably enough with a few acrimonious exceptions, including one which the Niners managed to get the best of, i.e., Trent Williams. Most of the time, it appears that once the business side has been handled, it can be separated from the desire to play and compete with your teammates, who were only minutes away from a Super Bowl and who can all empathize with a team trying to short-change you.
An example of this that hits closer to home than most is Jerry Rice’s contract holdout back in 1992. As someone born that year, I was shocked to have never heard this story. Rice refused to report for 37 days until his demands to be paid as the league’s most important non-quarterback were met. It never threatened to extend into the regular season, but the message was sent, and he got his payday. There were no hard feelings, and it’s barely a blip on his GOAT legacy status.
If Deebo Samuel were to come out of this as one of the league’s best-compensated players and he earns that contract on the field, this would be water under the bridge for the players, the franchise, and the fans in a flash. No one really thinks about how the sausage is made after they’ve eaten it. Same here. No fan or coach, or teammate will resent Deebo’s tactics when he’s sandblasting defenders and scoring touchdowns.
With all this said, what’s left to be done? It’s really quite simple. Find the varying degrees to which each party is willing to be uncomfortable. This applies to every angle of the situation. The money, the usage, the perceived or real slights that arise when trying to translate someone’s worth to dollars and cents. They need ironing out and finessing.
If time, circumstances, and history have shown us anything, it’s that this is all very achievable. Only a select few players have truly forced their way out of situations like this, and hardly any of them were winning as much as this team. On top of that, the Niners have recently earned a deserved reputation when it comes to their outstanding culture for players, which should aid in this aspect of the endeavor.
That said, it might not be smooth sailing from here on out, but that’s okay. Remember, it’s supposed to be a little uncomfortable.