How Deebo Samuel's trade request impacts Trey Lance, 49ers' 2022 outlook

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Deebo's request complicates plan for Lance, 49ers in 2022 originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The 49ers geared their offseason toward transitioning from Jimmy Garoppolo to Trey Lance. Even with Garoppolo still on the roster, all signs are pointing to the 49ers turning things over to Lance with the expectation that the second-year quarterback can get them over the final hurdles from contender to Super Bowl champion.

But Deebo Samuel's apparent displeasure with the 49ers, and subsequent trade request, could alter the expectations for both Lance and the 49ers in 2022.

The 49ers don't have to trade Samuel, nor should they be eager to acquiesce to his demand. They hold the contractual leverage and could play hardball if they so desire.

We don't know what led to Samuel's desire to leave the 49ers. Reports suggest it's not about the money involved in the contract extension he is seeking and has more to do with how the 49ers used him and his desire not to be a running back-wide receiver hybrid going forward.

Perhaps the 49ers can mend the relationship over the summer, bring Samuel back and cement his as a franchise building block.

But if they can't and feel forced to trade him during this week's NFL draft or sometime in the summer, Lance and the 49ers will have lost a vital part of their offense. A weapon that would have made life a lot easier for a young quarterback who is destined to have growing pains next season. (They all do.)

By all accounts, the 49ers loved what they saw from Lance behind the scenes during his rookie season. The North Dakota State product showed flashes of potential during his two starts in place of an injured Garoppolo. The arm talent is impressive, and the athleticism is elite. But Lance is still raw and prone to mistakes that plague all young quarterbacks in the NFL.

The best way to calm choppy waters around Lance is to have a good scheme, solid running game, and dynamic pass-catchers who can serve as security blankets for the sophomore QB.

The 49ers check all of those boxes. Kyle Shanahan's scheme should create easy throws for Lance and the 49ers are comfortable relying on their run game while he settles in. They'll still have the best tight end in football in George Kittle. But trading Samuel would eliminate an elite wide receiver from the 49ers' offensive equation, allowing teams to focus on Kittle and removing a player who can take a 2-yard pass and turn it into 75 from the arsenal.

NFL research dug up a great stat that shows just how unique of an offensive threat Samuel was last season in which he was both a top-flight receiver and electric running back.

Last season, Samuel had more receiving yards (1.405) than Tyreek Hill, more yards per catch (18.2) than Ja'Marr Chase, and more yards after catch over expectation (403) than Cooper Kupp, Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, and Hill combined. He also had more yards per rush (6.2) than Jonathan Taylor.

A player who can do all of that isn't one who can be easily replaced, especially when you're planning to contend for a Super Bowl with a first-year starter who only logged 17 collegiate starts.

RELATED: Where 49ers stand if Deebo's trade request becomes reality

Samuel's willingness to do whatever the 49ers asked him last year is the reason San Francisco turned things around after a 3-5 start and was a quarter away from the Super Bowl.

The 49ers asked more of him as Garoppolo's injuries mounted, and it's fair to assume Shanahan would ask Samuel to carry a similar load, especially early on in Lance's tenure as the starter. Having Samuel to lean on if Lance was struggling or Shanahan didn't trust him in a dicey spot was a luxury that made the 49ers a realistic title threat despite Lance's inexperience.

Now, that might be gone.

That doesn't mean Lance won't be good in 2022 and maybe great down the road. It doesn't mean the 49ers won't contend. But not having Samuel, if the 49ers do eventually honor his request, makes everything more complicated and amplifies the need for Kittle to stay healthy and for Brandon Aiyuk to take a Year 3 leap. It also means less margin for error from Lance.

All that adds up to a tenuous situation for the 49ers. Yes, they still have a lot of skill-position talent and an offensive maestro at head coach. Lance's ceiling remains incredibly high and the "wow" plays he made last year still have those in Santa Clara buzzing.

But no Deebo means Lance and the 49ers will have to adjust their plan, and perhaps, their expectations for 2022.

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