It seems like every offseason the San Francisco 49ers face a decision whether they should extend one of their homegrown players. That won’t be any different this season regarding wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.
Aiyuk has shown that he’s a No. 1 receiver in this league, having by far and away his best season as a pro. He needs one more touchdown to tie his career high, along with six receptions. We’ll see if Kyle Shanahan allows Aiyuk to reach those numbers before he gets pulled in Week 18 against the Rams. But Aiyuk has 300 more receiving yards than he did last season and is averaging more than five yards per reception than a season ago.
Aiyuk, who turns 26 in March, has set himself up for quite the payday this offseason. Spotrac projects what a players' market value will be for the upcoming free agency period, and they have Aiyuk making $22.8 million per year, with a contract that has the total value of $91.4 million over four seasons.
The other salary cap site, Over the Cap, projects the 49ers to be over the NFL’s $242 million salary cap for next season. Naturally, this is why we’ll continue to hear about potential Aiyuk, or one of the other star players, as a potential trade chip this offseason.
One team that makes a ton of sense from a football perspective is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Bleacher Report proposed an Aiyuk trade that would team him up with Trevor Lawrence where the Niners receiver at least a first round pick in return, plus additional compensation.
The 49ers have Aiyuk under contract for next year since the team picked up his fifth-year option, which means Aiyuk plays on a price tag of $14.1 million. The only way they’d need to move on from Aiyuk is if he holds out and demands a new contract. Or, if the Niners want to sell high on a 26-year-old to be receiver.
The point of the draft is to find and develop players so they turn into an Aiyuk. If he were on another team where he’d be the only featured receiver, Aiyuk would probably be closer to 1,700 receiving yards this season than 1,300.
San Francisco has found plenty of loopholes in the salary cap to delve out extensions and keep the talent in-house. The wide receiver class is mighty strong this NFL Draft cycle, so the temptation would be there, but there are no question marks about Aiyuk, you know what you’re getting and how he fits your culture.
The return would have to be significant to say yes to a trade.