New contract for Brandon Aiyuk? Why 49ers aren't thinking trade - Sport News

New contract for Brandon Aiyuk? Why 49ers aren’t thinking trade

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In each of the past four offseasons, the San Francisco 49ers have meticulously worked on signing one of their emerging young stars to a lucrative contract extension. It has become a tradition that is equal parts exciting and exasperating for those involved.

Each of those deals — tight end George Kittle (2020), linebacker Fred Warner (2021), receiver Deebo Samuel (2022) and end Nick Bosa (2023) — offered a unique challenge with varying degrees of tension.

Samuel’s negotiations were the most contentious, including a trade request that wasn’t granted. Bosa’s deal took the longest, nearly keeping him out of last season’s opener against the Steelers.

Amid rumors and speculation, all those extensions eventually got done. It’s why, as the Niners and wideout Brandon Aiyuk embark on another attempt at a mutually beneficial payday, the Niners’ overriding feeling is one of optimism even as the internet invents nonexistent trade offers.

“I’ve watched it with Deebo, George, Fred, all these guys,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You’ve just got to be patient. You’ve got to let it play itself out, not get involved, and usually when you’re in a situation like we are where you’ve got a real good player who wants to be here and we want the player to be here extremely bad too, what I found with us it doesn’t always happen right away, but it’s a matter of time it ends up working out.”

In part because of those deals, the outside assumption has been that the Niners would have to swallow hard and trade Aiyuk because of the realities of an increasingly top-heavy salary cap.

The thinking isn’t unfounded. The 49ers have a handful of highly paid stars who eat up a significant chunk of their cap. Those assumptions have also been short-sighted relative to San Francisco’s thinking for the better part of the past year.

At the 2023 spring NFL league meetings in Phoenix, general manager John Lynch acknowledged that teams had already been calling about Aiyuk’s potential availability, noting it would be unusual for a team to pay two receivers at or near the top of the market for their position. The Niners had no desire to trade Aiyuk then, and according to multiple team sources, had already begun planning for an Aiyuk extension to come in 2024 so long as he was able to stay healthy and build on a breakout 2022 season.

On the heels of an even-better 2023 in which Aiyuk led the team in receiving yards (1,342), finished ninth in the NFL in receiving yards per game (83.9), second in yards per reception (17.9) and first in yards per target (12.9) on his way to a second-team All-Pro nod, the Niners’ resolve to keep him has strengthened.

Aiyuk was the No. 25 pick in the 2020 draft and has been on a steady ascent since, working through some early struggles on his way to establishing himself as quarterback Brock Purdy’s top target and a tenacious blocker in the run game.

It’s why, according to Lynch, the Niners have not received any offers for Aiyuk, have again made it clear they have no desire to trade him and have already engaged Aiyuk’s camp in early discussions about a contract extension.

“There’s nothing better than drafting a guy, developing a guy, watching him flourish and then rewarding him,” Lynch said. “That’s really what we’d love to do … He’s a great example of what can happen when you mix that ability, talent, drive with real high expectations, and he’s become a tremendous player and he’s earned everything that’s going to come his way.”

Of course, any negotiation is a two-way street. And it’s become increasingly common to find players using social media and other platforms to voice their displeasure with negotiations either loudly, cryptically or a combination of the two.

After Lynch’s comments at last week’s league meetings, Aiyuk posted a series of emojis on his Instagram story that translated to “money talks, bulls— walks.” That emoji statement came more than a month after Aiyuk demurred when asked about his upcoming contract discussions following San Francisco’s Super Bowl LVIII loss to the Chiefs.

At that time, Aiyuk said he’d like to stay in San Francisco “if that’s the right move.” Asked what that would look like, Aiyuk said, simply “being a champion.” Aiyuk offered a bit more insight into his mindset during an appearance on “The Nightcap” podcast with Shannon Sharpe and Chad Ochocinco last week while also noting that he’s been at the Niners facility doing offseason workouts.

“I’m just trying to get what I deserve,” Aiyuk told Sharpe and Ochocinco. “I felt like this season playing football I figured out who I was as a person, as a player, what I bring to the table, what I bring to the locker room, what I bring to the organization and just the value I hold when I walk in that building … We have professionals working on both sides. Hopefully we can come to a professional agreement and continue to play professional football.”

A deal of the magnitude Aiyuk desires is never easy. The 49ers clearly want to keep him and, it seems, Aiyuk wants to stay. Could that change? Sure, but only if the Niners are blown away by a trade offer and/or Aiyuk’s demands far exceed what they’d be willing to pay.

There are some recent comps for an Aiyuk deal, including Calvin Ridley’s recent four-year, $92 million deal with the Titans. Aiyuk is younger (26) and more proven than the 29-year-old Ridley, though not a free agent, so the Niners hold plenty of leverage beyond next season with the franchise tag option.

But San Francisco would also be wise to get Aiyuk signed before top receivers such as Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and Cincinnati’s Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase get new deals, which could mean something getting done a little sooner than the usual start-of-training-camp target the Niners employed for Kittle, Warner and Samuel.

As for the cap ramifications of another big contract, a new Aiyuk deal would almost certainly reduce his $14.124 million cap hit in 2024, and though that number would probably increase for 2025, it’s possible for the Niners to structure it to where the cap charges wouldn’t explode until 2026, when some of their other big salaries would be off the books.

A new deal would also set the table for next offseason, when the Niners plan to reward Purdy with his own mega deal. Signing Aiyuk and Purdy in consecutive offseasons would be an important long-term development. They’re not only key players on this team but, as some of their other stars get older and move on, focal points of San Francisco’s next nucleus of stars.

“There’s no doubt that because we’ve been aggressive so much that there’s some realities that we’re going to be faced with moving forward,” Lynch said. “You just can’t have everybody. But Brandon is somebody we’d love to keep around.”

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