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Corey Perrine-USA TODAY Sports

Four reasons why the 49ers won’t trade Brandon Aiyuk

Marc Adams
Mar 24, 2024 at 11:28 AM--

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While rumors have continued to swirl about the possibility of the San Francisco 49ers trading star wide receiver, Brandon Aiyuk, some have held fast to the belief that the 49ers will not trade the player. Teams are calling about Aiyuk. Reportedly, the Jacksonville Jaguars were interested but felt the 49ers asking price was too high. And who could forget the talk of Aiyuk going to Pittsburgh when he fanned the trade rumor flames with a social media post about how he and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin look alike? (Now that he mentions it, they do kind of look alike.)

But when push comes to shove, will the 49ers really consider trading Aiyuk? I suppose if the price is right, they will. But they've invested so much in him, from taking him 25th overall in the 2020 NFL draft to helping him develop into a dangerous weapon for one of the league's best offenses. Aiyuk, a four-year pro, has surpassed 1,000 yards in both of his last two seasons.

Until the 49ers shock me by trading Aiyuk, I'll stand by my statement that he won't be moved. Here are four reasons why the 49ers won't trade Aiyuk:

1. There's not someone on the roster to replace him

The 49ers are in win-now mode. They came close to winning the Super Bowl, and still have one of the best rosters in the NFL. Why would you trade away a talented wide receiver who finished 2023 with 75 catches, 1,342 yards, and seven touchdowns? Especially when there's no one on the roster to replace him, as is the case with the 49ers right now.

Sure, the 49ers have players at the position, but none can fill Aiyuk's shoes. He's the best pure wide receiver on the team, runs the best routes on the team, and is also one of the better route-runners in the league. Who can replace him?

Deebo Samuel is one of the team's stars on offense, but he can't do what Aiyuk can do. Everyone loves Jauan Jennings, but he's more of a number three guy. Could Danny Gray or Ronnie Bell make people forget about Aiyuk? It's not likely.

The 49ers re-signed Chris Conley to a one-year deal. He would probably be the closest one on the team to replicate what Aiyuk does, but even Conley can't replace Aiyuk. There's not a receiver currently on the team who can do so. So it would be a mistake to move on from Aiyuk, especially considering the rapport he's established with QB Brock Purdy.

2. There's not a rookie who can replace him for 2024

Some say the 49ers could trade Aiyuk for a first-round draft pick and replace him that way. But what rookie can come in and be better than a second-team All-Pro in year one? Occasionally a wide receiver comes along who would be worth trading an established Pro Bowl-level receiver, but it doesn't happen often.

Even if someone like Marvin Harrison, Jr. can become a player like that, the 49ers won't be able to come close to drafting Harrison. He's expected to be taken within the first five picks. Malik Nabors and Rome Odunze are also wide receivers who are highly thought of, but they both could go in or near the top 10.

Adonai Mitchell is a wide receiver who the 49ers could easily draft later in the first round. But will he be better than Aiyuk in year one? I doubt it. Rookie wide receivers often take a little seasoning before they develop into a legitimate threat. There are exceptions, of course, but few of those exceptions are as good at their craft in their rookie year as Aiyuk is now.

And since this team is in win-now mode, a rookie won't be able to replace Aiyuk.

3. Aiyuk is an elite blocker

If Jennings is the best blocking wide receiver in the league, his teammate, Aiyuk, is not far behind. Coach Kyle Shanahan demands his receivers block, whether in the run game or when another receiver has the ball. And few do that better than Aiyuk. If the 49ers trade him, and his replacement isn't as strong of a blocker, the run game will feel that loss.

There also won't be as many big gains on offense. Whenever you see a big gain, be it a run or catch, there's often a wide receiver blocking hard to help make that happen.

If you go back and watch, you'll see Aiyuk is often downfield blocking on big runs or catches. If you're going to be a wide receiver for the 49ers, you must be able to block. That's likely one reason Gray and Bell have not had much playtime. As the 49ers receivers say, "No block, no rock."

4. The team has learned from the DeForest Buckner trade

Hopefully, the 49ers learned their lesson when they traded DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts in 2020. They believed they wouldn't be able to pay both Buckner and Arik Armstead. That was likely true, so they chose to keep Armstead, trade Bucker, and then draft his replacement, Javon Kinlaw. The 49ers lost that trade.

Buckner has continued to be an ironman for the Colts, missing only three games in his NFL career. Kinlaw, meanwhile, spent most of his pre-2023 career on the sidelines, missing 26 games in his first three seasons. And when Kinlaw did play, he was never the force inside that Bucker is.

Additionally, Bucker is a three-time Pro Bowler, and a two-time All-Pro, while Armstead has never been named to a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. And Armstead has missed his share of games, missing more in 2023 than Buckner has in his career.

So the hope is that the 49ers learned from the mistake of trading Buckner, and won't make the same mistake with Aiyuk. I realize the Buckner trade allowed the team to bring back Armstead and safety Jimmie Ward in 2020. The trade may have also indirectly allowed the 49ers to draft Aiyuk, but it still was the wrong decision, even if the wide receiver has developed into an All-Pro.

That was a risk that may not pay off again. This time, the 49ers need to resist the urge to make a trade and keep their All-Pro star.
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