Kyle Shanahan isn’t worried about how Deebo Samuel wants to be used in the San Francisco 49ers’ offense during the 2022 NFL season. The head coach told reporters he’s already spoken with his star player about his role in the scheme, and both are in lockstep.
It hasn’t always looked that way this offseason. Not when Samuel appeared to be lobbying for a trade over concerns about how often he was asked to play running back last season.
Shanahan using an elite wide receiver as a workhorse runner worked wonders for the Niners in 2021. The schematic ploy is too productive for Shanahan to shred those particular pages of the playbook.
Samuel’s attendance on the first day veterans reported to training camp was a good sign player and coach can continue to work together. So were the positive words of general manager John Lynch about the chances of agreeing a new contract with Samuel.
Shanahan Not Worried About Samuel Role
Speaking to reporters at training camp on Tuesday, July 26, Shanahan revealed his conversations with Samuel about his role this season have been “really good,” per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area:
Maiocco noted how he meant “discussion” instead of “decision,” but the import of Shanahan’s words is the most positive development for the 49ers. It sounds like there’s a good chance coach and player can find a happy medium between how Samuel wants to be used and how effectively Shanahan can schemes other ways for him to attack defenses.
There should still be instances of Samuel operating out of the backfield, but maybe with less of a workload as a runner. That workload was considered a point of contention between the two sides back in April, when ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reported Samuel had asked for a trade.
Samuel’s discomfort “with the way he is being used” was subsequently confirmed by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The way Samuel was being used was as a do-all offensive weapon who lined up everywhere.
He aligned outside as a traditional wide receiver, in the slot, as a tight end and running back. The latter position became something Samuel had to get used to during the Niners’ late push for the postseason.
He spent a ton of time in the backfield to help beat NFC West rival the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18, before staying within those confines for large portions of the win over the Dallas Cowboys in the Wildcard Round, per Next Gen Stats:
Shanahan needs to keep this wrinkle in the offense because it makes defenses play a guessing game about one of the most feared playmakers in the league. Yet, it’s easy to see why Samuel would complain.
Playing running back not only exposes the 26-year-old to more hits and a greater risk of injury. It also takes time away from what he can do as a wideout, a position where the market has exploded this offseason.
Fortunately, Lynch still sounds confident Samuel will get paid and continue to don the uniform of the 49ers for a long time to come.
Lynch Optimistic About Samuel’s Contract
Samuel’s set to be a free agent in 2023 after earning a base salary worth $3.986 million this year, according to Spotrac.com. It’s a far cry from what top receivers have earned this offseason.
Samuel will rightly consider himself worthy of the kind of deal the Miami Dolphins gave to Tyreek Hill, or the contract Davante Adams was given by the Las Vegas Raiders. An annual salary in the region of $30 million is a realistic benchmark for Samuel after he caught 77 passes for 1,405 yards last season.
The 49ers don’t seem to be sweating about possibly having to pay a contract on that scale. Lynch sounded an optimistic note when revealing how talks are going, per David Lombardi of The Athletic:
Those talks have to be productive because the 49ers need Samuel. Shanahan’s system manufactures yardage in chunks, and fellow players like Brandon Aiyuk have similar traits to Samuel, but the difference between good and elite is significant.
Samuel belong in the latter bracket, and as long as he’s willing to keep playing the Shanahan way, the Niners shouldn’t waste time before coughing up the cash.