SANTA CLARA, Calif. — For the past few months, the San Francisco 49ers have repeatedly said they’d like to keep wide receiver Deebo Samuel for a long time. On Wednesday, it became clear that Samuel and the Niners don’t quite see things the same way.
Samuel, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract, told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington that he has asked the 49ers to trade him. Samuel declined to offer specific reasons for requesting the trade but acknowledged that he has 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 scrubbed 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 on Tuesday, Samuel did not attend, and sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that he was not expected to participate in any on-field work during the voluntary portion of the offseason program.
Samuel’s trade request comes at a time when the salaries for wide receivers have skyrocketed. The Las Vegas Raiders gave Davante Adams $28.5 million per season on an extension after trading for him, and the Miami Dolphins rewarded Tyreek Hill with a contract averaging $30 million per season one week later after acquiring him from the Kansas City Chiefs. Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs also received a lucrative contract extension recently.
Despite all of 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 well into the future. At the NFL owners meetings at the end of March, both sounded optimistic that deals for Samuel and defensive end Nick Bosa would be forthcoming.
“Like I’ve long said, those guys are going to be a part of us for a long, long time,” Lynch said. “They’re fantastic players. They’re very much at the core of who we are and they’re fabulous players, fabulous people and a big part of who we are.”
Shanahan said he wasn’t involved in the negotiations but was also adamant that Samuel remains a foundational player for the franchise.
“But we need to figure it out,” Shanahan said. “Those are guys who have earned a lot, two guys that I’m hoping that they are 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 on a new contract.
“That is not my call,” Samuel said then. “That’s out of my hands.”
But Samuel now seems to be taking matters into his own hands. The 49ers have been open to working out a deal with Samuel, but those talks have not gone anywhere. In the meantime, there are other wideouts who are also still in line for big-money deals.
In fact, Samuel’s agent is Tory Dandy, who also represents Tennessee’s A.J. Brown and Seattle’s DK Metcalf, two of the other wideouts who are set for paydays. Washington’s Terry McLaurin is another wideout primed 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 yards per catch and 6.2 yards per carry while scoring a combined 14 touchdowns. His 1,770 yards from scrimmage ranked third in the league. He also rushed for eight touchdowns — an NFL single-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, Samuel, 26, coined the term “wide back” because of his ability to play receiver and running back. That versatility has value but also left some to wonder if he should be valued as a true wideout or if there should be consideration for his time at running back.
Should the 49ers honor Samuel’s trade request, he would have no shortage of suitors, and the Niners would seek a return similar to what the Packers got for Adams or the Chiefs got for Hill. The 49ers don’t have a first-round pick in next week’s NFL draft after trading it as part of a package to move up for quarterback Trey Lance last year.
Aside from Samuel, the Niners’ current receiver group 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 scores on the ground. He has played in 38 games, missing one game in 2019 and 2021 and nine in 2020 because of various injuries.