Three scenarios in which Aiyuk remains a 49er in 2024, possibly beyond

Three scenarios in which Aiyuk remains a 49er in 2024, possibly beyond originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The 49ers have tried to work out a multiyear contract extension with Brandon Aiyuk since the 2023 NFL season ended, but the sides haven’t been able to reach an agreement thus far.

Then, on Monday, a report surfaced that Aiyuk planned to visit the team facility in Santa Clara for a meeting, which in and of itself is an unusual event, as the entire team and staff is on summer break. It does indicate, however, that the sides remain in communication, though the 2020 first-round draft pick’s future still could unfold in several different ways.

While a trade always is possible, here are three ways that Aiyuk can remain with the 49ers this season and potentially beyond.

An agreement is reached

Historically, the 49ers prefer to keep their talented players in the building with high-dollar multiyear extensions. The proof is on the roster, with long-term deals signed by George Kittle, Trent Williams, Fred Warner, Deebo Samuel and Nick Bosa over the past several years.

The 49ers no doubt have made Aiyuk reasonable offers that reflect his performance over his four NFL seasons. If the sides are close on a guaranteed dollar amount, they might be able to reach a compromise in order to keep everyone involved happy.

The 49ers already have restructured several players’ contracts in order to manipulate the total salaries paid out, and they remain under the NFL salary cap. They also have one more season with a little extra wiggle room since quarterback Brock Purdy is on the third and final year of his rookie contract, with a lucrative extension likely to come.

With some compromise on both sides, a valuable extension could be reached.

Aiyuk holds out, then reports for Week 1

Just as Aiyuk refused to report for mandatory minicamp a few weeks ago, he could fail to show up at the facility during training camp next month. With Aiyuk still on his first NFL contract/fifth-year option, the 49ers have the ability to waive fines levied on a player who is absent from camp, as they did with Bosa before the 2023 season. Organizations can’t waive fines for absences during minicamp.

Like Bosa during his own holdout, Aiyuk still is under contract, and could decide to skip training camp in its entirety and wait to report until just ahead of Week 1. But if the sides still can’t agree on a long-term extension by the time the 2024 NFL season begins, there is no chance Aiyuk sits out. Reporting after the start of the season would be costly, with Aiyuk’s salary jumping from just over $2.3 million in 2023 to $14.1 million guaranteed in 2024.

Without an extension in place, Aiyuk would have the 2024 season to show the world his value and set himself up for a mega contract prior to his sixth season.

The 49ers play hard ball

If contract talks remain in a stalemate, the 49ers could hold their ground with Aiyuk. They still have Samuel under contract, and recently extended Jauan Jennings through the 2025 season. General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan also drafted a very talented wide receiver — Ricky Pearsall — in the first round this year.

If the Aiyuk-49ers relationship becomes cantankerous, the team could refuse to waive the fines accrued for his training camp absence, which would cost him $40,000 for each day missed.

The 49ers also could use the franchise tag on Aiyuk after the 2024 season, keeping him with the team through 2025. While there is a negative connotation associated with players being “tagged,” it’s not necessarily negative financially, as a tagged player receives the average of the top five salaries in their position group from the previous year.

In 2025, the franchise tag for a wide receiver should be in the neighborhood of $31 million for one season. The drawback for Aiyuk would be a lack of stability for the future.

So, what is a reasonable Aiyuk salary?

When looking at the many high-priced extensions signed by NFL wide receivers since the 2023 season ended, it’s understandable why Aiyuk wants to receive his due after four productive seasons. Where the second team All-Pro falls in the order of salaries, however, is debatable.

Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson received the highest contract for a non-quarterback this offseason with a five-year, $140 million extension, with $110 million guaranteed. While Aiyuk is a substantial contributor to Shanahan’s offense, he doesn’t have comparable stats to Jefferson, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and 2022 All-Pro and NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

Philadelphia Eagles wideout A.J. Brown received the second-highest extension this offseason at $96 million over three years, an annual average of $32 million, with $84 million guaranteed. Detroit Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown will earn the third-highest average salary of $30 million, matching Miami Dolphins speedster Tyreek Hill with total values of $120 million each for their extensions. Their fully guaranteed money differs slightly, with St. Brown at $77 million and Hill at $72.2 million.

Hill’s Miami teammate, Jaylen Waddle, might be the closest statistical comp to Aiyuk. Waddle, in three seasons with the Dolphins, has recorded three 1,000-yard seasons and scored 18 touchdowns, and he led the league with 18.1 yards per reception in 2022.

Aiyuk has recorded two 1,000-yard seasons in four years and scored 25 touchdowns, and he had his best average yards per catch in 2023, with 17.9.

Waddle signed a three-year extension worth $84.75 million this offseason, with an average annual salary of $28.25 million and $76 million guaranteed. The 49ers likely offered Aiyuk somewhere in the neighborhood of Waddle’s average salary, understanding the need to match where the receiver market stands, but what he’s demanding could be much higher.

Aiyuk’s floor could be the three-year, $70 million contract that Michael Pittman signed this offseason, with $46 million guaranteed. Pittman, whom the Indianapolis Colts selected nine picks after Aiyuk in the 2020 draft, made 336 catches for 3,662 yards and 15 touchdowns in his four seasons (compared to Aiyuk’s 269-3,931-25 line) and, like his 49ers counterpart, has two 1,000-yard seasons. Pittman had a whopping 109 catches last season, and finished just shy of the century mark in 2022, with 99 receptions.

The NFL wide receiver market has been set, and where Aiyuk eventually will fall in it could be settled soon.

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