49ers, WR Brandon Aiyuk At Standstill

Now in the NFL’s quiet period between minicamp and training camp, a few wide receiver situations move toward center stage. The Cowboys have not extended CeeDee Lamb, while Tee Higgins is the last remaining player on a franchise tag. The Broncos and Courtland Sutton have not reached a resolution, and the Browns are working on resolving their Amari Cooper situation.

While our most recent Trade Rumors Front Office piece touched on the complications the Cowboys’ situation could bring for a Lamb deal, the 49ers have interesting terrain to navigate as well. They want Brandon Aiyuk around beyond 2024, but as of now, they are not readying to pay the new market rate at this position.

[RELATED: 49ers Sought Mid-First-Round Pick For Aiyuk]

San Francisco and Aiyuk have seen negotiations stall, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler said during a SportsCenter appearance. The 49ers’ desire to extend Aiyuk has not prompted them to go toward the places this new market is covering, Fowler adds. It is not known how far apart team and player are here, but Aiyuk did not attend minicamp and has now lobbed a salvo at club management.

During a video call with ex-Arizona State teammate Jayden Daniels, Aiyuk said (via the San Jose Mercury News’ Cam Inman) the 49ers “They said they don’t want me back, I swear.” This certainly runs counter to the messaging coming out of San Francisco this offseason, and The Athletic’s David Lombardi notes (subscription required) this can be interpreted as the team not wanting Aiyuk back at the price he is seeking. Social media-driven actions — scrubbing team content from pages, Deebo Samuel sharing 49ers negotiating details, Von Miller cropping John Elway out of a White House lawn photo — have been increasingly common for players in contract squabbles. They largely prove as footnotes in the grand scheme, however.

Aiyuk is tied to a manageable fifth-year option salary ($14.12MM). The 49ers do not have to act this year, though the cost may well rise the longer the team waits. The ebbs and flows of this negotiation, numbers-wise, are not known. But it is fair to believe Aiyuk’s asking price has risen since the run of WR deals came to pass this offseason. An extension north of Amon-Ra St. Brown‘s four-year, $120.01MM Lions extension came up from Aiyuk’s camp. As it stands, the 49ers do not appear to want this negotiation to end there.

Aiyuk, 26, may make more sense as a long-term investment compared to Samuel. Aiyuk-over-Samuel — on a team payroll that should eventually include a Brock Purdy extension — rumors have circulated to the point the older wideout has addressed his future in San Francisco. Samuel, 28, is signed through the 2025 season — at $23.9MM per year. The market is rising once again, and three players now earn more than $30MM per year. Aiyuk has never made a Pro Bowl, however, separating him from the tier Lamb likely will end up on once his negotiations wrap.

Among 49ers, only Jerry Rice has accumulated more receiving yards through four seasons than Aiyuk’s 3,931. The NFL, of course, has shifted toward a pass-heavy league in the years since Rice’s otherworldly prime. Terrell Owens did not become an immediate starter as a rookie, and Samuel missed 15 games over his first four seasons. Samuel, though, also packed in a first-team All-Pro season (2021) during his first four seasons. An Aiyuk extension in the $30MM-AAV range, while in step with the new market, may cause an issue for San Francisco’s versatile weapon. That 49ers-centric stat also may not paint the full picture; among active wideouts, Aiyuk’s yardage through four seasons ranks 14th.

The 49ers can retain Aiyuk on the franchise tag in 2025, though the team is currently projected to be $37MM-plus over next year’s salary cap. This is with Purdy on his seventh-round contract and both Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir unsigned. Aiyuk can potentially use San Francisco’s cap situation in his negotiations, though it would not be out of the question for the 49ers to find a way to tag him next year.

Like the Bengals, the 49ers attempting to make this WR setup work for one more year points to Aiyuk remaining with the team. First-round pick Ricky Pearsall looms as a potential successor for Samuel or Aiyuk. As this interesting round of negotiations persists, training camp will be the next step.

Since Aiyuk is on a rookie contract, the 49ers can waive his $50K-per-day fines — as they did for Nick Bosa once he signed — for holding out of training camp. The team reached an extension with Samuel, who staged a hold-in, days into its 2022 camp. With more than a month left until Aiyuk is required to report, it will be interesting to see which side budges here.

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