By Terrance Turner
April 20, 2022 (UPDATED JULY 31)
Star wide receiver Deebo Samuel has asked the San Francisco 49ers to trade him.
ESPN sports reporter Jeff Darlington reported the news earlier this morning: “Breaking News: I just spoke to wide receiver Deebo Samuel — and he told me that he has asked the 49ers to trade him,” Darlington tweeted at 11:41 am today. He added that the team is aware of Samuel’s wish to be sent elsewhere.
Samuel did not want to discuss the specific reasons for his request. But NFL Insider Ian Rapoport says it’s not about money. “Money is not at the root of the issues for Deebo Samuel,” he tweeted today, adding that “otherwise that could be fixed with a big offer. But there are also issues with how he’s used.”
Samuel, 26, is entering the final year of his rookie contract after being drafted by the 49ers in 2019. He had three receiving touchdowns that season, along with three rushing touchdowns and 159 rushing yards. (The 49ers went to the Super Bowl in 2020 and lost to the Chiefs. But Samuel had 53 rushing yards — the most by a receiver in Super Bowl history.) He had a breakout season in 2021, breaking Jerry Rice’s franchise record for most receiving yards in the first seven games of a season (with 819 yards & 4 TDs in Weeks 1-8, per NFL.com). But midway through the season, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan moved Samuel to the backfield, making him more of a running back than a wide receiver. The change led to a change in production: Samuel went from 44 catches in weeks 1-8 to only 23 in weeks 10-16.
Still, Samuel shined in 2021. He led the league with 18.2 yards per catch and 6.2 yards per carry, while scoring a combined 14 touchdowns (including eight rushing touchdowns — the most ever by a wide receiver in a single season). He became the first WR since 1970 to lead his team in rushing touchdowns, according to ESPN. And Samuels’ versatility and high production led to him being selected to the Pro Bowl.
At the Pro Bowl, one journalist asked Samuel how he sees himself. ESPN reporter Lisa Salters asked Samuel: “Now are you a running back now, or are you a wide receiver? How would you describe you?”
Samuel answered: “We got a new position. It’s called ‘wide back.’ Wide receiver playing running back.”
What do you like about doing both?” Salters asked.
“Ummm…I can get the ball. That’s what I really like: the ball is in my hands all the time.”
Unfortunately, Samuel’s star-making performance wasn’t enough. Though the 49ers overcame a 3-5 start to win 7 of their last nine games (and then beat both the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers in the postseason), they ultimately fell short. The 49ers lost in the NFC Championship Game to their divisional rival, the Los Angeles Rams. After a costly pick by QB Jimmy Garoppolo, the team lost, 20-17. Samuel was heartbroken by the loss, as shown below:
After the game, Samuel was asked about staying with the ‘Niners long term on a new contract.
“That is not my call,” Samuel said then. “That’s out of my hands.”
But Samuel soon took matters into his own hands. On April 7, he scrubbed every trace of the team from his social media. He unfollowed the team on Instagram, removed his 49ers profile picture, and deleted over 80 posts that showed him in a team uniform, according to ESPN and Yahoo! News.
A week later, Samuel went live on Instagram to address fans whom he said had reacted poorly to his discontent with the team. He claimed that people had sent death threats via his direct messages (DMs) on social media.
“All y’all fans in the DMs sending death threats and racial stuff … that don’t bother me, it don’t,” Samuel said with a smile on his face during an Instagram Live video on his page. “Y’all were the same ones ‘hoorah-ing’ and ‘go Deebo-ing’ and now y’all wanna send death threats and racial stuff … it don’t bother me.”
Around that same time, contract negotiations between Samuel and the team broke down. NFL.com reported that Samuel disengaged from contract extension talks. Now he’s requested to be traded, which is likely not news to the 49ers; IAN Rapoport says that Samuel made the trade request a week ago.
This all comes after ESPN reporter Adam Schefter stated that both Samuel and Titans receiver A.J. Brown have elected to sit out their teams’ on-field workouts. Schefter claimed Monday that neither player is expected to participate in their respective on-field offseason workout programs. (Tennessee’s program began on Monday, and San Francisco’s started on Tuesday, according to Sports Illustrated.)
Washington commander wide receiver Terry McLaurin is also seeking a new contract. Washington begins its program in a couple of weeks, but McLaurin is expected to report while seeking a new deal, per Schefter.
Meanwhile, the 49ers seem to have the leverage in this situation. According to Connor Hughes, who covers the New York Jets for The Athletic, the 49ers are unwilling to oblige their disgruntled star player. The team has leverage, after all. Samuel remains under contract for one more year and San Francisco can use the franchise tag in 2023.
“He ain’t getting out,” a source told Hughes, who said the 49ers have “zero intention” of trading Samuel.
“I know you guys have jobs to do, and everyone’s very curious about Deebo and what’s going on there,” he said. “I would ask for your guys’ understanding and a little perspective that I’m not going to talk about that much today, because I don’t think that’s productive. I don’t want to speak on behalf of Deebo and his team, and I think it’s non-productive for us to be talking about things.”
“I can’t ever imagine wanting to move on from Deebo,”Lynch later added: “He’s just too good of a player.”
UPDATE (July 31, 2022): Deebo Samuel is back in San Fran. Samuel and the 49ers have agreed to a three-year contract extension worth $73.5 million, with a guarantee of $58.1 million — the second-largest for a wide receiver. (Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf just signed a similar extension with a $58.2 million guarantee.) The move comes as the 49ers are moving on from longtime quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, opting to secure a future with QB Trey Lance.