SANTA CLARA, Calif. – After a week he called one the most stressful of his life that ended with a lucrative contract extension, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel was finally free Tuesday to speak on the speculation that swirled around him during a turbulent offseason.
Samuel, fresh off signing a three-year extension worth up to $73.5 million and wearing a t-shirt with teammate Brandon Aiyuk on it, sat down and spent the next eight-plus minutes fielding questions about the contract saga that saw him request a trade in the spring, scrub his social media and eventually work through it all to remain a 49er.
“At the end of the day, this is a business,” Samuel said. “So, what changed was the communication. The more we communicated, the more we started figure things out.”
Samuel mostly declined to get into specifics of what, exactly, drove him to the point of requesting the trade in the first place. At one point, Samuel was asked directly if he regretted requesting a trade. He reiterated that it’s a business and that he’s happy it all worked out.
But Samuel did take the time to address a few points that had been brought up as the source of his unhappiness.
Most notably, Samuel pushed back on the notion that he was unhappy with how the Niners used him in the dual running back-receiver role he took on for the second half of last season and that he didn’t want to continue doing it moving forward.
“That’s false,” Samuel said. “There’s a lot of things that came out that I wanted to speak on, but at the end of the day, I wasn’t allowed to. You can turn on the tape or go back to the Cowboys game. It kind of shows what kind of player I am. And also, you can go turn on the Pro Bowl tape and like what I said about being a wide back, I don’t mind doing whatever it takes for this team to win.”
On his relationship with quarterback Trey Lance, who has taken over as the starter since Samuel last played with the team, Samuel said it’s a work in progress.
“It’s getting better by day,” Samuel said. “It’s not hard to be out there with Trey. He’s willing to learn and I’m willing to learn as well and we’ll just come together as one and figure it out.”
From what Samuel was willing to reveal Tuesday, it seemed his biggest issue was a breakdown in communication. In previous offseasons, the Niners worked out long-term contract extensions with linebacker Fred Warner and tight end George Kittle, but both of those deals came just before the start of training camp.
Samuel ultimately got his deal about five days into this year’s camp but indicated he would have liked to have been kept in the loop better in the early parts of the offseason. After Samuel’s trade request in April, the Niners held firm that they had no intention of trading him and though they received some offers during the NFL draft, coach Kyle Shanahan said none of those offers were anywhere close to being worth the team’s consideration.
That weekend, Shanahan addressed Samuel’s situation for the first time and emphasized the importance of being able to meet in person with Samuel so they could cut through whatever is bothering him.
It’s something Shanahan brought back up Monday when he discussed Samuel’s extension.
“When you separate from each other, not just him and I, but just him and the whole building and you go away and you know the big decisions that are coming, I think things happen,” Shanahan said. “But I think as soon as we got back close to minicamp, we’re able to hang around each other. It was pretty obvious that [we were] the same people we’ve always been and we just had to get back together and start communicating more.”
After sitting out the offseason program, Samuel did arrive for the team’s mandatory minicamp in June. He had financial reason to be there (there are fines to pay for skipping it) but Samuel said Tuesday he planned to be there for it regardless.
Both sides viewed Samuel’s presence at the minicamp as a natural turning point that helped lead to a deal even though it took more than another month to get it done.
“A huge step in this is when Deebo made the decision to come, albeit he didn’t participate, but just to show up at the mandatory minicamp,” general manager John Lynch said. “I thought that was huge … And we really held onto that thought all along, but right there, I said, okay, we’re good.”
As the summer progressed, Samuel found himself seeking ways to take his mind off the stress of waiting and worrying about when a deal might get done. He received regular calls from teammates, such as Lance, asking about his status.
But it was left tackle Trent Williams who seemed to play a pivotal role in helping the two sides come together. At one point, Samuel, who considers Williams “like a big brother,” spent a week with the Niners offensive tackle as Samuel put it “just hanging out” as a way to keep his mind off of things.
Williams reminded Samuel to stay levelheaded, offering tips from his own experience negotiating a big contract with the Niners in 2021 and pointing out to Samuel that his close relationship with Shanahan is hard to find in the NFL.
“One thing I told Deebo before that is that you’ve got to continue to work on these relationships that’s in the building,” Williams said. “Not really worry about what’s on the outside. Not really worry about who’s in your corner saying this or that, like you and Kyle have a great relationship. And I don’t think you should let that go. I think like you talking to him and y’all being men that y’all are and the respect that y’all have with each other, I think everything can work out.”
Those words proved prophetic, though it took some time as other top receivers around the league received their own big contracts. After Samuel reported to camp July 26, he did some conditioning on the side and did not practice as he awaited an agreement.
Aware that something was close, Samuel said he tried to distract himself by running, working out and continuing to lean on his relationship with Williams. Finally, he got the call from his agent, Tory Dandy, that it was finished, leaving Samuel speechless.
“It is a feeling that I can’t even explain to be honest with you,” Samuel said. “I just was lost with words. It’s just a blessing to be able to be in a position I’m in. It shows all the hard work and all the stuff that I do for this team. And, you know, I’m just happy to be here.”