49ers news: Deebo Samuel, and being the highest paid non-QB in the NFL

Deebo Samuel, the wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers Stars, may be looking at a larger contract extension than previously thought, according to a report from Fort Worth Star-Telegram Reporter Clarence Hill Jr., who primarily covers the Cowboys, chirp On Thursday that Samuel “wanted to be the highest paid non-quarterback” in the NFL.

Samuel is entering the final year of his junior deal and is hoping for a new 49-player contract after emerging as one of the NFL’s top offensive arms last season. However, as of this moment, the Niners have not been able to come to an agreement on their selection for the 2019 second round.

There is reason to remain wary about overreacting to any rumors regarding Samuel’s contract. Under coach Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco waited until July and August to agree to big stretches with stars like tight end George Kettle and linebacker Fred Warner. However, Shanahan’s system also chose to exchange All-Pro defensive lineman DeForrest Buckner in a deal that shocked the NFL.

If Samuel is unwilling to accept a contract that doesn’t make him the highest-paid non-quarterback player in the NFL, that could force the 49ers into a tough spot. With so many other outstanding talents owed great decades, they might be even more tempted to trade Samuel for a huge deal from a team like the New York Jets.

However, the NFL’s unique (and complex) contract structure means there are multiple ways to make Samuel the highest-paid non-quarterback, including those that have a lower impact on the Niners’ salary cap.

First, the average annual value of contracts is inflated by the way they are reported. Let’s say a player is under contract for another season, as most players happen when they sign additional extensions.

In this case, reporters usually report the money and years added to an already existing deal. For example, when Steelers edge rusher TJ Watt signed a record extension last September, a four-year contract was reported worth $112 million. However, his total deal with Pittsburgh was actually a five-year agreement worth $122 million.

Why this discrepancy? Because he was already under contract in 2021 with a base salary of about $10 million.

Watt’s extension averaged more than $28 million, the highest value for a defensive player in the history of the league. However, that’s not how it will affect the Steelers’ salary cap. Instead, they turned nearly all of his salary in 2021 into a massive $35 million signing bonus that will be spread over the five-year contract term.

Tyreek Hill is technically the largest non-quarterback contract by average annual value in four years, the $120 million contract extension he signed with the Dolphins this off-season. However, a significant portion of the contract value is converted into an unsecured base salary of $43.9 million in 2026. The same deal pays Hill about $23 million a season over the next four years.

Nothing is stopping the 49ers from doing something similar with Samuel. This kind of structure would give Samuel some additional leverage in any future contract negotiations if he remained an elite player but would give the front office a lot of flexibility.

Davant Adams is the only other underrated player with a contract that has an average annual value of at least $28 million. However, a closer look reveals that the figure is more for show than practical. As a result, the Raiders could release Adams after this season, having paid him only $23.6 million, and they wouldn’t be in trouble for an extra dollar.

Even if they stick with him through next season (when there are some extra guarantees in his contract), Adams is set to receive less than $67.8 million over the next three seasons (about $22.6 million a year) and count even less than the cap. Like Hill, most of Adams’ contract value is transferred to unsecured base salaries north of $35 million in 2025 and 2026.

Watt’s contract technically has the lowest total potential value among his, Adams, and Hill nodes, but is easily the safest of the three. Every dollar in the first three years of Watt’s deal (2021-2023) was fully secured, and his contract is not heavily loaded, meaning more reported money is guaranteed. Watt will get $80 million over the first three years of the deal, but note, even that is slightly less than the reported value of his extension.

That’s no guarantee that Samuel will reach an agreement with the 49ers anytime soon. He could still insist on a deal that would lead the franchise to his trade. However, the Niners won’t get to that spot because they aren’t ready to make him the highest-paid (or non-quarterback) receiver in the NFL. This means little to no bragging rights for Samuel and his agent. If San Francisco gets there, it will be because of the contract structure and guarantees.

Reality in the NFL world. Contracts are rarely as expensive to teams as advertised. That’s why, until proven otherwise, there’s no reason to believe the 49ers won’t cut a deal with a superstar like Deebo Samuel.

For more information on Samuel, check out our Kyle Posey discussing the human element and whether Samuel has legit beef with the 49ers below with former KNBR host Larry Krueger: