The breakup between Deebo Samuel and the 49ers came as a surprise. Adding fuel to the unexpected was the slew of reasons put forward for Samuel requesting a trade a week before the NFL Draft. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport on Tuesday during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show offered some clarity.
Rapoport specifically spoke about Samuel’s unhappiness with his role when discussing the relationship between the 49ers and Samuel after he showed up for the mandatory minicamp. San Francisco has taken steps this offseason to ensure Samuel slips more into a traditional wide receiver role instead of relying on him to be a running back and handle a heavy workload on the field.
“What the 49ers, I think, did was try to tell him, ‘we’re not going to use you as a running back. We drafted a running back in the third round, they have some good players coming back from last year,” Rapoport said. “I think they would like to use it on gimmick plays, but not give it to him between 15-time tackles. It’s something that perhaps speaks louder than a new contract.
Samuel thrived in the “wideback” role last year where he racked up 77 receptions and 59 carries with 14 total touchdowns. This role was born more out of necessity when San Francisco suffered a series of injuries in their backfield. Although the dual-threat season earned Samuel an All-Pro spot on the first team, it’s not a position he wants to keep long-term.
“He wants to get paid as a receiver, and this contract is great, but he doesn’t want it to be his only contract,” Rapoport said. “We see what happens to running backs. They get beaten up. It’s actually really cutting edge and smart. It really is.”
The 49ers look set to load up their backfield this year with enough guns that Samuel isn’t needed on the field. Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon, Jeff Wilson Jr. and JaMycal Hasty will be joined by 2022 third-round pick Tyrion Davis-Price, who thinks he’ll at least take on the short-range, red-zone role that Samuel used last year .
Adding depth to their running back room could help, but Rapoport is still wary of signing a contract.
“They have a lot of work to do to get a deal done,” Rapoport said. “I think it’s possible, but it’s not one of those where I would say, ‘it’s going to happen, just wait two or three weeks. It’s really, really difficult.
There’s evidence the freeze is melting in the 49ers-Samuel relationship, starting with his attendance at the mandatory minicamp. If role is the sticking point, the 49ers have the offensive weapons and coaching staff to get around that, and it’s hard to imagine Samuel not adjusting to San Francisco this year.