The best thing about the Deebo Samuel story, which in most cases would just be another dime-a-dozen, dog-bites-man story of offseason dissatisfaction, is that it’s actually the perfect pre-draft story for the only people who care about the NFL in April: posturing nerds.
Now we don’t oppose posturing per se, and much of our dissolute audience is comprised of galacto-nerds. True, we prefer them on the other side of the room until it’s time to renew that subscription, but they are still part of the family.
Anyway, enough about you—which is a sentence that should be in greater parlance. Let’s talk Deebo.
Samuel is the San Francisco 49ers’ offense—its most dynamic pass catcher and most unusual running back. In springing a 3-5 team with few prospects for anything except fan angst (which we approve of in almost all cases) into a conference finalist, Samuel had more than 170 touches and over 2,000 yards when you count all 20 games, postseason included. He hid almost all the team’s other offensive shortcomings and reinflated Kyle Shanahan’s reputation.
But once the season was over and all his press-conference lying about how much he loved his team and liked being a running back and wide receiver in one was completed, he decoupled himself from the team’s social-media dronery, gave ESPN snoop du jour Jeff Darlington an interview in which he said he wanted to be traded, then walked that back by tweeting that Darlington somehow misunderstood what he said, and that nobody but the 49ers, he and his agent know the truth, then deleted that tweet as though that meant he could start the process all over again. As an aside, Ian Rapoport of state-controlled media said that Samuel’s issue isn’t money but usage, a fear that he is tempting more injury by handling the ball more than any other wide receiver.
As you knew it would, Samuel caused the whole kennel of NFL barking dogs to go I-see-squirrels ballistic. He saved them all from more of the repetitively turgid analysis they must offer on command of a draft that doesn’t have a jaw-dropping pick or anything else worthy of all the time it is given. In short, Samuel became the star of the season, which makes either him, his agent Tory Dandy, or both of them PR genii.
Here, in effect, is what he’s done in checking all the pre-draft nonsense boxes.
1. He has expressed unhappiness with his current situation.
2. He has been vague about what said situation is that has caused him such agitation.
3. He has asked for a trade, which links immediately to the draft because, despite the Los Angeles Rams’ championship-level disdain, the draft still makes most football observers audibly ovulate regardless of gender.
4. He has played coy with the media after using it to drop a hint.
5. He has created speculation that it isn’t just a money play, even though you’d be a fool to think it isn’t.
Have we missed anything? Maybe, but why tempt a migraine this soon in the process? Samuel poked an active wasp hive and now he has gone radio silent again. The perfect textbook play.
If it’s about usage and he doesn’t want to be a wide back or whatever stupid name his skillset is being given by the stenography pool, he is limiting his earning power at a time when wide receivers are being paid as though they are the only ones at the scorpion farm with the antivenom. It also puts him in direct conflict with Shanahan, which can only lead to genuine hilarity for everyone involved including us.
If it’s about money, he creates an argument about how close he should be slotted to Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Amari Cooper and DeAndre Hopkins. Money arguments aren’t nearly as interesting, though. He’ll get paid, lots though not enough, and at the first sign of distress whatever team he plays for will look for ways to cut its losses while piling more upon him, in that time-honored NFL way.
If it’s about the loss of former offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel to Miami, well, that’s touching but it’s hypernerdy and almost completely implausible. Not that there aren’t people willing to advance the theory, mind you, but there is no evidence that Samuel and McDaniel are both members of the Green Lantern Corps. Besides, the offense in which Samuel thrived is Shanahan’s, not McDaniel’s, and in either event that would obliterate the usage issue entirely.
If it’s about animus with Shanahan, not only is it delightful in a chaos-is-good kind of way, but it leads us to trade talks, which leads us to the existential question “How many draft picks is he worth?” The 49ers are low in this area (no firsts, two thirds, three sixths and one each in the other rounds) and could restock the cupboard, but that seems rather a waste of the kind of talent in Samuel that they already have. Shanahan the coach would be an idiot to not soothe Samuel’s ruffled feelings, whatever they are, while Shanahan the general manager is dreaming of how to monetize Samuel while not engaging in the new higher-valued wide receiver trend.
And if it’s about Dandy and scoring big for Samuel and fellow clients DK Metcalf and A.J. Brown, well, for those of you fantasy agent leagues, Dandy is an intriguing late first-round sleeper. And that sentence just rendered me paralytic with depression.
So let’s review. Unhappy player? Yes. Reason? Either money or responsibility, but mostly money. Career pressure? Indubitably. Contract window? Wider than it’s ever been, but not forever because most non-quarterbacks only get one big score before they start dropping bones, ligaments, and cartilage out each pant leg. Discontent with The Man? Oh please, let it be that. Timing? Couldn’t be better for everyone involved. It’s a leveragepalooza, and you are there.
The only thing that ruins this is if Samuel signs a new deal with the Niners between now and next Thursday, in which case we can all feel let down by the chaos to which we have been deprived. Absent that bringdown, this is exactly the kind of story that makes offseason football the appalling time-waster football fans crave in our endless pursuit to be made to look like the hapless charlies we are. We know little, pretend we know much, spin malformed pre-draft fantasies to avoid working on the quarterly report for that scum in the corner office, and in general wallow cheerfully in the etherized delight of quarter-witted speculation that is the NFL in the 300 days in which there is not a scheduled game.
So yay Deebo Samuel. If you’ve done this for you, who better? If you’ve done this to offend the 49ers, better still. But you’ve also done it for us.