San Francisco 49ers consider offensive options for newly signed Deebo Samuel, 'a special player'

ByNick Wagoner ESPN logo
Tuesday, August 2, 2022

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers wideout Deebo Samuel signed his lucrative three-year contract extension Monday, bringing an end to the question of whether he will remain with the team for the foreseeable future.

But Samuel's new deal also brought about plenty of other questions regarding his future, the most pressing of which is: Will the Niners continue to use him in the "wide back" hybrid role that elevated Samuel to first team All-Pro status last season?

The answer is yes, according to coach Kyle Shanahan, but the shape that takes will depend on multiple factors.

"I think [it's] based off of whatever happens," 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."

What Samuel earned is a three-year extension through the 2025 season agreed to Sunday that is worth up to $73.5 million and includes $58.1 million in guarantees. As it turns out, some of that maximum value is directly tied to incentives Samuel can get should he perform that dual role at a similar rate of production as 2021.

Sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Monday that Samuel could earn up to $1.95 million over the life of his contract if he meets certain benchmarks for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.

Samuel can earn $650,000 for each season he has 380 or more rushing yards. 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. Either way, he cannot earn more than a total of $650,000 per season or more than $1.95 million over the life of the contract for these rushing incentives.

For comparison's sake, Samuel had his most productive rushing season as a pro in 2021, racking up 365 yards and eight touchdowns, which makes the TD incentive likely to be earned and the rushing total unlikely to be earned for salary-cap purposes.

Throughout the offseason, speculation persisted that Samuel had been unhappy with his role and wanted to cut down on the rushing attempts. But Shanahan said last week that he and Samuel were on the "exact same page" when it comes to usage.

Shanahan reiterated Monday that Samuel will again figure prominently into the plans in whatever way is necessary to help the 49ers win depending on the opponent, what they see on film, how the 53-man roster shapes up and potential personnel groupings.

"When Deebo stays healthy and he's able to practice and able to go through things, Deebo is capable of doing anything," Shanahan said. "That's why he's helped us so much to win, whether it's in the pass game or the run game or whether it's blocking or throwing the one time we asked him to throw. When you have guys who have skill sets that can do a number of things you want to always keep them doing them."

After signing his deal Monday morning, Samuel joined his teammates in practice for the first time this season, a session that also happened to be the team's first fully padded workout of camp.

Because it was Samuel's first practice, the Niners eased him in, keeping him on a snap count, and they will continue to increase his workload as the days go by, according to Shanahan. Samuel made a couple of catches for big gains from backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld in his limited work in team drills.

Left tackle Trent Williams, who is a close friend of Samuel, said there was a noticeable energy boost from having him back in the fold.

"You watch what he does receiving wise, you watch what he does rushing wise, you watch the spark plug that he is for the team," Williams said. "You see us coming out of the locker room, that's not just for show. That's how we are in the locker room. If you go in there right now, that boom box is probably right next to his locker. He's that type of person and that's why he's important to this organization and that's why we had to have him."

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