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The rift between Deebo Samuel and the 49ers came as a surprise. Adding fuel to the unexpected was the slew of reasons offered for why Samuel requested a trade a week before the NFL draft. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport on Tuesday in an appearance on the Pat McAfee Show offered a little bit of clarity.
Rapoport specifically talked about Samuel’s unhappiness with his role when discussing where the relationship between the 49ers and Samuel is after he showed up for mandatory minicamp. San Francisco has taken steps this offseason to ensure Samuel slides more into a traditional wide receiver role instead of leaning on him to be a running back and handle a heavy workload on the ground.
“What the 49ers, I think, have done is try to say to him, ‘we are not gonna use you as a running back. We drafted a running back in the third round,’ they have a couple good players coming back from last year,” Rapoport said. “I think they’d like to use him on the gadget plays, but not give it to him between the tackles 15 times. That is something that actually speaks maybe 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. That role was borne more out of necessity when San Francisco experienced a rash of injuries in their backfield. While the dual-threat season landed Samuel a First-Team All-Pro spot, it’s not a position he’s interested in carrying long-term.
“He wants to be 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 beat up. It’s actually really forward-thinking and smart. It really is.”
The 49ers look primed to load up their backfield this year with enough weapons that Samuel isn’t needed on the ground. Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon, Jeff Wilson Jr. and JaMycal Hasty will be joined by 2022 third-round pick Tyrion Davis-Price, who figures to take on at least the short-yardage and red-zone role Samuel was utilized in last year.
Adding depth to their running backs room might help, but Rapoport is still wary about a contract getting signed.
“They’ve got a lot of work to do to get a deal done,” Rapoport said. “I think it is possible, but it’s not one of those where I would say, ‘it’s gonna get done, just wait two or three weeks.’ This is a really, really hard one.”
There’s evidence that the frost is thawing in the 49ers-Samuel relationship, starting with his presence at mandatory minicamp. If the role is the sticking point, the 49ers have the offensive weapons and coaching staff to work around that, and it’s hard to envision Samuel not suiting up for San Francisco this year.