Four Questions: Sorting Out the 49ers and Brandon Aiyuk

Answers are coming soon on whether Brandon Aiyuk is traded.

The build up to the draft is filled with drama amid reports of Pittsburgh looking to trade for Brandon Aiyuk, and Aiyuk’s agent shooting the rumors down.

1. Will the 49ers trade Brandon Aiyuk to Pittsburgh?

Unlike the talks with Deebo Samuel I think a trade is possible, but I don’t expect it to happen. Samuel was valued most by the Niners so lacking options he compromised on money. Aiyuk is valued most outside the organization by clubs which would likely give him more targets and more money. Therefore Aiyuk is more apt to dig in. He’s asking for his true market value and is confident teams are willing to pay it.

For the Niners to agree to a trade they need to value the offer. Everything out of Pittsburgh says pick 20 is off limits, and in my view that means Brandon Aiyuk is off limits. A trade without 20 would require 51, 84, and a 2025 2nd for equal value. The Steelers won’t do that either. So Aiyuk stays.

Pittsburgh wants Aiyuk for a 2nd and a late pick according to the reports. Well sure, who wouldn’t? Stefon Diggs went for a future 2nd and he had better stats? That’s 30 year-old Stefon Diggs with 160 targets last year vs. a 26-year old Aiyuk with 105. With Diggs’ target volume, Aiyuk has 114 catches for 1,812 yards and 10 TDs. Diggs was 107-1,183-8.

If Shanahan agreed to a 2nd and a late pick for Aiyuk he would be shishkabobbed by the Faithful. That deal would be impossible to sell to Shanahan, much less the fanbase. Pittsburgh won’t pay the 49ers trade ante and Shanahan won’t accept the Diggs deal. Stalemate.

2. It’s August and the Niners and Aiyuk still can’t reach a deal then what?

Then it can get ugly. I don’t see Aiyuk moving off his 27-28M per asking price. That’s his market value. The Niners can say, yeah but not to us because we throw less. The retort is that’s your decision on targets, but the market value remains.

Then the Niners have a choice, meet his asking price or threaten to roll him over to the 5th-year option. I believe Aiyuk would respond to the 5th-year option by holding out - and he only has to play six games in a season to accrue the year.

Fans point to Aiyuk has no leverage, the Niners can go to the 5th year option and then franchise tag him. All true. But Aiyuk has cards to play as well, in theory he could hold out for 11 games and then play the final six. I don’t think Aiyuk would consider taking it that far, but if he held out for even four games that could damage the Niners pursuit of the 1 seed and returning to the Super Bowl.

NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco reported today that Aiyuk will not participate in team voluntary workouts without a contract extension.

If no agreement is reached and the Niners execute the 5th-year option Aiyuk would be paid $14 million next season instead of his asking price of $27-28 million. At that point, the clear play for Aiyuk would be to hold out.

3. Can they reach a compromise for a year?

Aiyuk’s nuclear option would be to offer to sign a one-year contract for around $25 million provided the deal included a no franchise tag clause going forward. In essence what Danielle Hunter did last year with the Vikings, a one-year deal and then unrestricted free agency.

I turned to cap expert Jason Hurley on this. He fully expects the Niners and Aiyuk will reach a deal eventually. He notes that if Aiyuk signs a one-year deal he would then become an unrestricted free agent in 2025, but could be tagged. Hence Aiyuk would need to add the clause for no tags in the future.

Would the Niners accept that, initially not a chance, but if the contract impasse approached opening day maybe they’d have to consider it. Under a one-year deal they get a motivated Aiyuk full season in a Super Bowl contention year. Otherwise, I expect he holds out.

The Niners are trying to have their cake and eat it too, the one-year no-tag deal would separate the two. You get the one year you need most, but then Aiyuk is gone in free agency. Would it really come to that? Doubtful.

The logical plan would be to extend Aiyuk, trade Deebo Samuel this summer or next year, and draft Deebo’s replacement now. By my mock, Javon Baker of Central Florida.

4. How does this end?

Could an Aiyuk trade happen yes, but if a team thinks they can get the Stefon Diggs deal I believe they’re mistaken. Give the Niners the value of the 17th-20th pick in the draft and a deal can be considered, maybe Pittsburgh surprises with 20 or the equivalent. Short of that, it’s not viable. The Niners need to be given a reason to make the trade, or they just wait until the summer.

Circle back to the talks in August. The Niners would be aware of the risks and ramifications of rolling to the fifth-year option, and maybe then they decide to pay Aiyuk what he’s asking. That’s my prediction. Hurley expects agreement on a deal from $26-28M per.

Hurley adds that there may be some give by Aiyuk on annual pay in exchange for more guaranteed money and a shorter deal. Samuel got $41 million fully guaranteed, while DeVonta Smith just got $33 million. Aiyuk will ask for the Deebo guarantee and three years while the Niners will say Smith’s deal set the market for guaranteed money and ask for five years. The right mix of annual money, fully guaranteed money, and contract length will all factor into a final deal.

Kabuki theater and then last-minute resolution, another typical Niner contract summer.

Tom Jensen