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Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers reporter remains confident 49ers will trade Brandon Aiyuk

Jun 19, 2024 at 2:23 PM

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Earlier this month, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette expressed confidence that the Pittsburgh Steelers would eventually find a way to trade for San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel.

Weeks later, that confidence remains strong. According to Josh Carney of Steelers Depot, Fittipaldo discussed the possibility of Pittsburgh landing one of the 49ers receivers, specifically Aiyuk.

"I think for the Steelers, I think they're interested, but I think they're interested at their price, and I think what [Steelers GM] Omar Khan is gonna do is he's gonna wait until it gets really uncomfortable for [49ers GM] John Lynch and [head coach] Kyle Shanahan," Fittipaldo reportedly said on Pittsburgh area radio station 97.3 The Fan. "And if you've noticed, Aiyuk is kind of starting to make it uncomfortable for the 49ers."

Fittipaldo is referring to a video Aiyuk posted on social media, telling Washington Commanders quarterback Jayden Daniels, a former Arizona State teammate, "They said they don't want me back ... I swear."

Of course, it's unlikely the 49ers said this to Aiyuk. More likely, the team is standing firm on its last offer, reportedly in the $26 million-per-year range, and is unwilling to approach $30 million annually. The 49ers clearly want to keep Aiyuk; otherwise, they would not have made such a significant contract offer. They just aren't willing to meet the receiver's demands—at least not yet.

"So, I think…deadlines always spur these deals, right?" Fittipaldo continued. "As the season gets closer, I think the 49ers might have a little bit more urgency in moving him. But yeah, listen, guys. It's been out there since March. We've known this has been a thing since March, and I think if it's gonna happen, probably not gonna happen in June. I think it'll happen probably closer to training camp or the start of the season."

The problem with that thinking is that the 49ers have significant leverage in their contract negotiations with Aiyuk. The receiver is under contract for the 2024 season, set to earn $14.124 million on a team-exercised fifth-year option. Next year, the 49ers can utilize the franchise tag.

San Francisco was unwilling to trade Aiyuk around the draft, when they could have used any draft compensation to acquire an immediate-impact player. Similar compensation in next year's draft will be useless to the 49ers during the upcoming season.

Additionally, salary cap space isn't an issue this year. San Francisco currently has approximately $32.7 million in cap space, the sixth-most in the NFL, per Aiyuk's options are limited unless he plans to sit out the 2024 season. While that would put significant pressure on a 49ers team with a win-now roster, Aiyuk risks failing to accrue a season, pushing his fifth-year option to next year, and putting the receiver in the same situation he is now.

NFL insider Ian Rapoport recently assessed the latest Aiyuk development, stating on NFL Network that the notion of the 49ers not wanting him couldn't be further from the truth.

"They just want him at their price. It is not a negotiation, to my knowledge, that has been completely dead," Rapoport said. "They just have not done a deal yet. And it's pretty clear that Brandon Aiyuk wants the kind of money that [Lions WR] Amon-Ra St. Brown ended up making, about $28 million on average over the first three years of his deal. The 49ers are not there yet."
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