SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Over the past few months, the San Francisco 49ers have said repeatedly that they would like to keep wide receiver Deebo Samuel for a long time. It became clear Wednesday that Samuel and the Niners don’t see things the same way.
Samuel, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal, told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington that he asked the 49ers to trade him. Samuel declined to offer specific reasons for requesting the trade, but acknowledged that he informed the team of his desire to leave.
That comes on the heels of what has become an increasingly turbulent relationship between the two sides following Samuel’s breakout 2021 season. In recent weeks, Samuel has removed any mention of the 49ers from his Instagram account, unfollowed the team and removed most photos of him in the team’s uniform from the platform.
When the Niners opened their offseason conditioning program Tuesday, Samuel did not attend, and sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that he was not expected to participate in any field work during the voluntary portion of the offseason program.
Samuel’s trade request comes at a time when the price of wide receivers has skyrocketed. The Las Vegas Raiders gave Davante Adams $28.5 million per season in an extension after trading to acquire him, and the Miami Dolphins rewarded Tyreek Hill with an average contract of $30 million per season a week after acquiring him from the Kansas City Chiefs. Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs also recently received a lucrative contract extension.
Despite all that, at every opportunity this offseason, San Francisco general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan have said they intend to keep Samuel with the team going forward. At NFL owners meetings in late March, both seemed optimistic that deals for Samuel and defensive end Nick Bosa would soon be forthcoming.
“Like I’ve said for a long time, those guys are going to be a part of our family for a long, long time,” Lynch said. “They are fantastic players. They are at the core of who we are and they are fabulous players, fabulous people and a huge part of who we are.”
Shanahan said he was not involved in the negotiations, but also insisted that Samuel remains a key player for the franchise.
“But we have to figure it out,” Shanahan said. “Those are guys that have won a lot, two guys that I hope will be Niners forever, or at least as long as I’m here.”
After the 49ers lost to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game, Samuel was asked about staying with the Niners long-term with a new contract.
“That’s not my decision,” Samuel said then. “It’s out of my hands.”
But Samuel now appears to be taking matters into his own hands. The 49ers have been open to a deal with Samuel, but those talks haven’t gone anywhere. Meanwhile, there are other wide receivers who are also in line for lucrative deals.
In fact, Samuel’s agent is Tory Dandy, who also represents Tennessee’s AJ Brown and Seattle’s DK Metcalf, two of the other wide receivers who are ready for paydays. Washington’s Terry McLaurin is another wide receiver poised for a big deal.
However, Samuel might be the most unique player in that group. He earned All Pro honors last season after leading the league with 18.2 receiving yards and 6.2 carrying yards while scoring a combined 14 touchdowns. His 1,770 scrimmage yards ranked third in the league. He also rushed for eight touchdowns – an NFL season record for a receiver – and became the first receiver since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to lead his team in rushing touchdowns.
In the process, the 26-year-old Samuel coined the term “wide runner” because of his ability to play both wide receiver and running back. That versatility has value, but it also made some wonder if he should be valued as a true wide receiver or if he should be given consideration for his time as a running back.
If the 49ers honor Samuel’s trade request, they won’t be short of suitors and the Niners will be looking for a return similar to what the Packers got for Adams or the Chiefs got for Hill. The 49ers do not have a first-round pick in next week’s NFL draft after trading him as part of a package to promote quarterback Trey Lance last year.
Aside from Samuel, the Niners’ current receiving corps consists of Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, Malik Turner and Marcus Johnson. Only Aiyuk and Jennings played for the Niners in 2021.
In three seasons with the Niners, Samuel has 167 receptions for 2,598 yards and 10 touchdowns with 550 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. He has played in 38 games, missing one game in 2019 and 2021 and nine in 2020 due to various injuries.