Four Questions: Brandon Aiyuk and The Draft

This time the contract tug of war could be different, Brandon Aiyuk is in demand.

Bradon Aiyuk has unfollowed the 49ers on Instagram, the usual contract negotiation drama in April.

  1. Does AIyuk unfollowing the Niners mean anything?

No. The Niners have the power, they can roll Aiyuk into his fifth-year option and then franchise tag him the following year.

Aiyuk does have a few cards of his own. First, he’s right, based on other signings his market value should be about $27.5 million per year. If Aiyuk were an unrestricted free agent he would have received at least that in the open market and been long gone. Aiyuk can point to that and say I’m not compromising. That you don’t use me enough to make me worth $27.5 million to you is not my concern.

Second, he can choose to hold out until he has to start playing to accrue the year. Aiyuk sits, the Niners stumble out of the gate, and the number one seed starts to fade away. There are costs to the Niners playing hardball and Aiyuk has said he’ll hold out if need be.

I would pay Aiyuk what he wants, and if the Niners are not willing to do that, then trade him. But the Niners will revert to process, they'll drag out the talks and hope to reach a deal in July or August. Maybe that can happen, but I don’t expect Aiyuk to compromise on money.

2.      If the 49ers decide to trade Aiyuk, what can they get?

The Washington Post reported recently that Pittsburgh is looking for a veteran WR1 to pair with Russell Wilson. Presumably Aiyuk would be at the top of their list. A trade with the Steelers would need to give them an early pick for a center, so Aiyuk and 31 to Pittsburgh for 20, 51 and a 2025 4th rounder could work.

Aiyuk started following Washington and is hoping for an Arizona State reunion with Jayden Daniels. In addition, Commanders GM Adam Peters is rumored to be interested in Jordan Morgan, who would be available at 31. The Niners send Aiyuk and 31 to Washington for 36, 40, 67, and a future late pick. The Niners would have four picks in the heart of this draft from 36 to 67.

3.      If the draft were held today, who would you predict the Niners take at 31?

Marshawn Kneeland, 6-3/267 edge from Western Michigan. I started projecting Kneeland as the pick early last week. Since then he’s visited five teams and has invites from 16, including the 49ers.

Yesterday the Athletic’s Dane Brugler, author of The Beast draft guide, named Kneeland as his sleeper pick for the first, tweeting that he has him ranked 32nd on his board.

Kneeland is the draft’s best edge setting defensive end against the run, has the quick burst off the line the Niners value, and has developed a very effective spin move. He can play outside on run downs and move inside on passing downs, a needed addition for quality depth upfront.

If the Niners select a defensive lineman at 31 it would mark the 4th time in eight years that Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have used their first pick in the draft on the defensive line.

4.      The 49ers have a recent history of drafting many of the players they bring in for Top 30 visits, what’s the takeaway this year?

Breaking down the 49er visits by player and where they are projected to go in the draft:

Late 1st-Early 2nd
EDGE Marshawn Kneeland (W Mich)

Mid-to-Late 2nd (would likely require a big trade up from 63)
WR Malachi Corley (WKU), DL Brandon Dorlus (Oregon)

Late 2nd-Early 3rd (could include a small trade up from 63)
IDL Michael Hall Jr. (Ohio St), CB Andru Phillips (UK), LB Trevin Wallace (UK)

Late 3rd (hope they fall to 94)
WR Javon Baker (UCF), WR Brenden Rice (USC)

S Sione Vaki (Utah), OT Caedan Wallace (Penn St)

CB Chau Smith-Wade (Washington St)

IDL Evan Anderson (Florida Atlantic)

LB Jamal Hill (Oregon)

13 visits have been scheduled so far, leaving another 17. Based on the distribution above, several of the remaining invites should be in the late 1st and 4th round windows.

Two receivers late 3rd can show intent. I have the Niners taking Baker in the 3rd in my current mock, though I think it’s the best round to target a corner based on the available talent.

Tom Jensen