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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Graziano explains what the salary cap increase means for Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers’ future

Feb 26, 2024 at 1:12 PM--

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NFL teams entered the offseason planning around a projected $242 million salary cap. However, the actual cap number for the upcoming season is about $13 million higher, set at $255.4 million. This increase is particularly beneficial for teams like the San Francisco 49ers, who most expected to do some financial juggling to be compliant.

On Monday, during an interview on Bay Area radio station KNBR, ESPN's Dan Graziano discussed the implications of this unexpected increase for NFL teams. Do organizations budget for similar increases in future years or rely on past trends when projecting future numbers?

Graziano also highlighted that agents are attempting to anticipate future scenarios. For those representing players like wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, the latest 49ers star seeking a contract extension, the question arises: Does the salary cap increase lead to players demanding higher compensation than initially anticipated?

"The whole entire market shifts with this significant increase in the salary cap, and it'll ultimately benefit everybody," Graziano commented on the "Murph and Markus" show. "But in the meantime, it does sort of force a reassessment of things. And the 49ers are in ... that win-now window, and they have a lot of big salary cap numbers for their stars next year, which is the way they've built their team. They could reduce his (Aiyuk's) salary cap number for this year with an extension. So that's one potential way to go.

"But then how far out do you want to budget high-end receiver money? And there's plenty of indications that teams haven't really won with paying two guys top-of-the-market money at that position, and so a lot for the 49ers to figure out in that scenario."

Graziano's salary-cap feature last week sparked headlines because the ESPN reporter speculated that the 49ers' financial situation might force the team to consider trading Aiyuk this offseason. Of course, he clarified that this was a "best guess" based on available data. He notes recent instances where NFL teams were forced to trade receivers because both sides couldn't agree upon mutually beneficial contract extensions.

"So it's very easy to imagine Brandan Aiyuk following that kind of path," Graziano said. "And again, that is just looking at it from the outside. I'm not saying that's what's going to happen. I'm just saying we've seen it, and the receiver market is such that it's unpredictable.

"We're still waiting to see what [Vikings WR] Justin Jefferson and [Cowboys WR] CeeDee Lamb get, and that probably sets the market for the rest of them. And the rest of them being Aiyuk, and [Bengals WR] Tee Higgins, and [Colts WR] Michael Pittman, and all these guys. [Bengals WR] Ja'Marr Chase is now extension-eligible for the first time.

"So the receiver market didn't move last year, and I think, at the very top, once it does, we're not sure what effect it's going to have. And so I think you have to hold open the possibility that he ends up elsewhere."

However, Graziano credits the 49ers' decision-makers for working out deals with the team's top extension-eligible players in recent years, including defensive end Nick Bosa in 2023 and wide receiver Deebo Samuel in 2022.

Graziano continued, "You just wonder if it gets to a point where there's too many big-money stars. They're not moving on from Deebo. They're not moving on from [T] Trent Williams. They're not moving on from [LB] Fred Warner or [RB] Christian McCaffrey or any of these guys anytime soon. So, is there room for Aiyuk? Obviously, you hope there is after the year he just had."

Suppose the 49ers end up having to pick between Aiyuk and Samuel. In that case, it creates a tough decision, according to Graziano, given their distinct playing styles and how each contributes to the team.

"You can make the case that Aiyuk, he's the more valuable guy, and yet Deebo does so many things," Graziano explained. "And the way they perceive their offense, the way they imagine themselves to be as an offense, I know from talking to people there, that if Deebo and McCaffrey are on the field at the same time, there's so much we can do because they're both Swiss Army knife types and you can line them up anywhere and all that kind of stuff.

"So my guess would be the Niners would probably value Deebo more because he's that unique player that fits what they're doing. But I don't think there's any question that they would lose a lot and find it hard to replace a Brandon Aiyuk."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Graziano below.

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