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Graziano: Salary cap situation may force 49ers to consider trading Brandon Aiyuk

Feb 19, 2024 at 8:51 AM--

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All eyes will be on Brandon Aiyuk's contract situation this offseason. As the San Francisco 49ers cleaned out their locker rooms last week, the wide receiver was asked if he hopes to remain with the team that drafted him, to which he replied, "If that's the right move, yeah."

The "right move" means securing a contract extension that places Aiyuk among the highest-paid receivers in the NFL. The 49ers have already invested significantly in Aiyuk's teammate, Deebo Samuel. But can they afford to retain both?

Aiyuk is entering his fifth NFL season, and the 49ers exercised the fifth-year option for the receive, keeping him under contract through the end of the 2024 season. If the team's decision-makers hope to retain him, they will aim to secure Aiyuk to a long-term deal before training camp.

While assessing the roster statuses of the two Super Bowl participating teams, one ESPN reporter speculates that Aiyuk's cost might be too high for the 49ers to manage. Dan Graziano believes Aiyuk might even request a trade to a team that can better afford to offer him a long-term contract.

"I want to stress that this is speculative: I do not know whether Aiyuk will want out if his contract is not extended," Graziano wrote. "But I do know it's not going to be easy for the Niners to extend him and that other wide receivers in similar situations in recent years -- such as Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown -- have asked to be traded and gotten their wish."

According to, the 49ers are currently approximately $12.38 million over the salary cap and will need to make some financial adjustments if they intend to keep Aiyuk on the roster. However, they also must consider the future. After the 2024 season, quarterback Brock Purdy's contract situation will become a significant obstacle.

"Aiyuk would surely be missed, but with all of the massive cap numbers the Niners are projecting for their veterans in 2024 and in future years, at some point they're going to need to move on from some of their stars," Graziano explains. "If they can get a first-rounder back in an Aiyuk trade and use it to replace him at wide receiver, that might actually be the best way to go."

Not everyone believes Aiyuk would be the one traded. One 49ers insider suggests the team would prefer to retain Aiyuk over Samuel, potentially leading to Samuel's trade.

"If it came down to Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk, I think they go with Brandon Aiyuk because he's on the same page as Brock Purdy," Matt Barrows of The Athletic recently said. "We saw that chemistry all year long. They seemed perfect for each other. They seem made for each other, whereas Deebo Samuel had some absolutely terrific games this season but didn't seem to have the same passing chemistry. A lot of his yards were short passes that he creates yards after the catch."

Graziano highlights options to maintain roster continuity. San Francisco could restructure the contracts of high-priced players like left tackle Trent Williams, wide receiver Deebo Samuel, defensive tackle Arik Armstead, and linebacker Fred Warner to ease financial constraints.

The ESPN reporter concluded, "To me, the most likely way this shakes out is Aiyuk ends up getting traded to a team where he's the clear No. 1 wideout and where he can get the extension he wants, leaving the Niners to draft his replacement in the first round. That's the cleanest way for them to address all of their other needs. I see San Francisco extending Hufanga and coming to some sort of arrangements with Juszczyk and Greenlaw that keep them both around."

H/t to Grant Cohn of Sports Illustrated for the find.

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