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Why trading Deebo Samuel could make sense for the 49ers

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

In two days (or less) time, we will have some clarity on the Deebo Samuel situation. Or at least, we should. Samuel has everyone’s head just about spinning with his trade request.

He clearly wanted a massive deal done early and the 49ers perhaps didn’t share his urgency or his sentiment about what his value was. The ebb and flow of typical contract negotiations was eschewed and Samuel reportedly has told the 49ers not to make him an offer.

Given the relationship between Kyle Shanahan and Samuel, this feels like a bit of whiplash. Where did this discontent come from? How did it escalate this quickly?

Those are questions only Samuel can answer, but the result is that two days before the NFL Draft, he wants out and the 49ers have at least publicly said they are not inclined to oblige his trade request.

A decision has to be made imminently here because if you’re the 49ers and you don’t get a “king’s ransom” as Josina Anderson termed it for Samuel heading into the draft, there’s no incentive to deal him. You need draft picks and/or players now, not a year from now.

If Thursday comes and goes without a trade, you’d imagine Samuel would have to remain on the roster.

The problem for Samuel is that the 49ers have most of the leverage. He can’t really afford to hold out and no one really does anymore with the new collective bargaining agreement.

San Francisco can fine him $40,000 a day if he holds out plus a week’s base salary for each preseason game missed.

If Samuel is somehow willing to forego that money, the bigger threat is that he would lose an accrued season and wouldn’t be eligible for free agency until 2023.

The imminence of his contract expiring in concert with his 2021 performance is his biggest bargaining chip. If he sat out, he’d give that up.

The much more likely scenario is a “hold in.” Samuel would have to show up, but that’s really all he’d be doing. He would participate, at least nominally, but could also come up with a phantom injury so he wouldn’t exactly be going full bore.

Jalen Ramsey did that in Jacksonville when he wanted out; he said he was dealing with a back injury that may or may not have been real, or at least as significant as it was made out to be. But with Samuel, health has always been a major concern, so if he’s not actually in shape, that could complicate a trade or an extension.

So, Samuel can’t hold out or he’s stuck with the 49ers for another season without them having much pressure to negotiate an extension. But he can absolutely show up, make things extremely awkward and generally appear disinterested and unhappy. That’s not exactly a boon for morale.

That’s his biggest threat right now, along with the thought that, hey, if he really won’t settle for less than the vaunted $25 million figure, has a history of injuries and doesn’t want to be here, there is literally no better time to cash in than now.

Shanahan has said countless times, as relayed to him initially through former South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, that Samuel has a tendency to gain weight over the offseason and not come into camp in shape.

Samuel suffered a foot injury in the 2020 offseason and it derailed his season. He resolved to never let that happen again and came into 2021 as healthy as he’d ever been. We all saw the results.

Shanahan has said explicitly that the only thing that could prevent Samuel from succeeding is health.

That’s a very reasonable concern when investing upwards of $20 million into one player, especially when you could replace him for a fifth of that in the draft.

When he’s playing, Samuel is, well, we all saw last season. He’s as dominant as any offensive player in the league. There’s no debating that.

There are plenty of outstanding receivers in this draft class. Maybe they’ll turn out to be better than Samuel. Every single one is a question mark. You just don’t know until you see it at an NFL level.

That’s why the 49ers should have plenty of hesitance towards dealing Samuel. He carried them to the playoffs last season. You don’t trade a player like that unless you have to.

But if the 49ers opt not to trade him, they will be taking a leap of faith that Samuel will be more amenable to talks over the rest of the summer. He is indicating that his stance won’t change.

Everyone has a price, especially if they genuinely don’t want to play for your team anymore.

There’s also the consideration that the 49ers might not need the superhuman effort from Samuel by transitioning to Trey Lance.

In theory you’d be moving to an offense that won’t be as reliant on yards after catch. You’re still going to want and need players who can rattle those post-catch yards off, but you can challenge teams in different ways with a quarterback who has an elite level arm and can make off-schedule plays.

This is all to say that if Samuel is desperate to leave, the 49ers have to consider offers.

There are comparisons being made to the purported Tyreek Hill offer from the Jets which was on the table of 35, 38 and 69.

That’s nothing to shrug at, especially with a player like Hill. But he is a couple years older with twice the NFL mileage as Samuel and his team already got a first contract out of him. They were mutually looking to move on.

San Francisco, discernibly, is not looking to move Samuel. They’ll keep him and be stubborn in trying to get a deal done if the right offer doesn’t show up on their doorstep by the time the draft rolls around. So, with all due respect to Hill, who has proven himself over a six-year period as an upper echelon receiver in the NFL — something Samuel has sort of proven, but not with the same consistency — Samuel will cost more.

If it’s the New York Jets, the most likely suitor who missed out on Hill, have a bevy of assets and a coaching staff familiar with Samuel, that Hill offer won’t get it done.

The starting point for a Samuel deal has to be a first-round pick of which the Jets have two, at No. 4 and No. 10.

If you’re the 49ers, the discussion has to start at No. 10 and one of the two second-round picks, more likely No. 38. Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reported that another NFL GM thinks the 49ers want two first-round picks

It’s the Jamal Adams price, but Samuel’s a far more valuable player than Adams ever was.

Scoff at that all you want, but it has to be a hell of an offer to move off a guy who was the entirety of the 49ers’ offense last season.

If the Jets offered 10 and 38, they would still have pick No. 4 and pick No. 35 to use. Everyone in the league knows they wanted Hill and you can be sure they want Samuel. So the notion that’s too absurd a price to pay, over swings at completely unknown quantities, is absurd.

We know what Samuel is. Pick No. 10 and No. 38 are mysteries. That’s also why Breer’s report suggests that the 49ers would need more.

Let’s say a 2023 third-round pick comes in play, too. In total, this theoretical Jets-49ers trade would look like this:

49ers receive: Pick 10, Pick 38, 2023 third-round pick

Jets receive: Deebo Samuel

If an offer like that comes in, whether it’s the Jets or any of the other myriad teams likely interested, San Francisco has to consider it. If they don’t believe Samuel will be invested for the long haul, or has any desire to stay with the 49ers, it’s a move they should make.

An early first-round pick can provide a premium talent or an opportunity to trade back and acquire more picks. With Alex Mack’s future in question, they could move for the likes of Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, an elite edge prospect, or take an early swing at replacing Samuel with the various receiving prospects in this draft.

If Samuel doesn’t want to stick around and the right offer comes in, the 49ers could re-tool for very cheap and add a heap of talent that matches up with Lance’s timeline. As incredible as Samuel is, it’s an enticing thought.

 

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