The 49ers are just a game away from a Lombardi Trophy, but their offseason “targets” are being made public at the same time. For wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, what happens after the Super Bowl remains an uncertainty.
Aiyuk has had another year in his career and is ripe for a huge contract. While much of the speculation has focused on how the 49ers will have to move on from him due to salary cap constraints, NFL media insider Ian Rapoport recently reported that re-signing Aiyuk is the 49ers top “priority”.
“Another 1000-yard season, 18 yards per catch going into his fifth-year option. My understanding is that this is a big-time contractual priority for the San Francisco 49ers. They want him around for the long term,” Rapoport said on January 28.
Over the past two years, Aiyuk has solidified himself as one of the NFL’s premier downfield threats. But San Francisco is tied up with several other big-money contracts and it will not be easy to make space.
While it may come at the cost of other players, Aiyuk’s connection with QB Brock Purdy can’t be ignored. Keeping the core of the offense together is as important as any other unit on the roster.
As things stand, the 49ers only have $1.37 million available in cap space according to Spotrac. Essentially, they have no wiggle room and will already need to make space whether or not they extend Aiyuk.
That being said, there are clear trades, releases and general contract shenanigans they can utilize in order to make space.
Linebacker Dre Greenlaw comes to mind. As good as he’s been, San Francisco can save up to $7 million by trading him, as Heavy’s Matthew Davis has pointed out.
They ought to receive a decent amount of resources in return as well in a trade like that. But what’s wild is that the 49ers front office doesn’t even need to release players.
It would create more salary cap tightness later on, but converting salary to bonuses could open up plenty of money. For example, WR Deebo Samuel’s deal could be converted and open up $15.8 million in space. Doing so with OT Trent Williams’ deal would free up another $15 million.
For better or worse, Aiyuk has had his best season in the league when it matters most: contract time. While the 49ers can keep him another year either way, they would much rather decide on his future this offseason.
Spotrac projects that his next deal would call for around $23 million a year and would probably extend him for another four years. That’s pricey, but receiver contracts have increased dramatically in the last five years and Aiyuk has shown he’s worth it.
They can also help their salary cap situation by backloading his deal. San Francisco can pay him, say, half of that $23 million projection for the first year and then spread out the rest over the following few years.
That would allow the 49ers to keep the core of the team, but then be able to monitor the situations of Samuel and other players after the 2024 season when Aiyuk’s deal ramps up in salary.