A few months ago, things were not looking good for the San Francisco 49ers despite appearing in their second NFC Championship Game in three years.
The team had a brewing quarterback controversy, while All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel asked to be traded.
But now, Trey Lance will be starting under center moving forward, and perhaps even more importantly, Samuel has agreed to a new contract that will keep him in the Bay for a while.
— NFL (@NFL) July 31, 2022
Simply put, Samuel is close to an irreplaceable player for San Francisco.
After showing flashes of promise in his first two NFL seasons, he blossomed in 2021, finishing with 1,405 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
But it’s his versatility that makes him a special player.
Samuel also ran for 365 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and most of that production came in the second half of the season.
Now, the 49ers can focus on the main thing moving forward: winning their sixth Super Bowl.
Samuel’s Role Is Unlikely To Change
When Samuel asked to be traded, one reason was that he reportedly didn’t like the fact that he was sometimes used as a running back.
It’s a role that could conceivably shorten his career, since full-time running backs usually fall off a cliff around the time they turn 30.
But it looks like Samuel, who is 26, will still be lining up in the backfield as needed.
“I think [it’s] based off of whatever happens,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “From my standpoint schematically, from our team’s personnel, from Deebo’s, from what we think gives us the best chance to win, if we wanted to move Deebo to running back that would have been something that we were honest about. … You can’t do that with anybody. You’ve got to do that with a special player and Deebo is a special player. That’s why he’s earned this contract that he’s got and I think that’s why he’s going to continue to earn it going forward.”
In fact, the South Carolina native’s contract has incentives that will earn him more money for being productive as a running back.
“Samuel can earn $650,000 for each season he has 380 or more rushing yards,” wrote Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com. “If he doesn’t get the rushing yardage total, he can earn $150,000 in bonuses in any season in which he scores at least three rushing touchdowns.”
It may be wise for the 49ers to limit Samuel’s time in such a role as he gets into his late 20s if nothing else than out of an abundance of caution to reduce his injury risk and allow him to extend his longevity and viability.
Lance Could Maximize The Offense
Lance is clearly a better long-ball threat than Jimmy Garoppolo ever was, and that alone could fatten up Samuel’s stats as a receiver.
In 2021, the 49ers offense looked drastically different depending on which quarterback was on the field.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) July 27, 2022
It’s telling that half of Samuel’s touchdowns last year at WR were thrown to him by Lance, and two of them came on passes of at least 45 yards (the longest was a 76-yard bomb).
Samuel may not be the fastest receiver downfield, but he does have ample speed and the ability to get open far away from the line of scrimmage.
Multiple Years to come of watching Trey Lance & Deebo Samuel pic.twitter.com/uhxefrhGiy
— Alex 👋 (@dbs408) July 31, 2022
Last season, the Niners finished 13th in points scored, 12th in passing yards, and 14th in passing touchdowns but only 29th in passing attempts, and improving those numbers will be integral to their championship hopes.
If Lance turns out to be as good as people think he can be, perhaps Shanahan will open up the offense a little more and look to stretch the field vertically more often.
In Samuel, he certainly has a major weapon that would allow him to do so.
The wideout will need to continue to put up the type of numbers he had in 2021 in order to prove he is worthy of his new contract, but if he does so, he could be headed down a path that may put him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.