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Breaking: 49ers GM Sends Forceful Message to Brandon Aiyuk Despite ‘Challenges’

Feb 28, 2024 #49ers, #NFL

John Lynch took the podium at Tuesday’s NFL Draft in Indianapolis and sent a strong message to 49ers Brandon Aiyuk: “We want you to stay put.” That’s probably obvious. But what’s less clear is whether Lynch and the 49ers can actually pull it off, given the constraints of their salary structure. What’s less clear is whether Aiyuk wants to stay in San Francisco. But let’s start with what Lynch said at the combine. In it, he not only acknowledged the 49ers’ “problems,” but also highlighted the team’s performance in recruiting players. “There are some issues,” Lynch told Pro Football Talk. “We have a lot of good players, a lot of good players that we have rewarded. Brandon is someone we think very highly of. One of my favorite people in our building. The same goes for the way he approaches the game. He’s a competitor. He is a warrior. He plays with such physicality and grace in a way that allows his body to occupy certain positions. “He also has a talent for making plays when it matters most, which has been a huge help to us as a franchise. And I think he has a good track record of adding important players for us, and Brandon is a player we want to keep for a long time.”

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The 49ers’ Brandon Aiyuk is having a breakout year.

Lynch has a number of reasons why he wants Ayuk in San Francisco. Last year, Aiyuk gained 1,342 yards on 75 catches, and his 17.9 yards per catch ranked second in the NFL. Throughout the season, he seemed to have strong chemistry with quarterback Brock Purdy, especially after the team’s other top receiver, Deebo Samuel, was injured in two games and suffered a partial injury in another. But Aiyuk won’t come cheap. Even with the $30 million spike in the salary cap, it will difficult for San Francisco to carve out enough room to keep Aiyuk, who turns 26 next month and is already a Top 5-10 receiver in the NFL.

Technically, Aiyuk is under contract on his fifth-year option next season, at $14 million. The 49ers could attempt to bring him back next season at that number, but there is just about a 100% chance he would hold out for a new deal. Spotrac projects Aiyuk for a contract at $23 million per year, and expects him to warrant an extension of four years and $92 million. The 49ers could structure things so that they squeeze Aiyuk in this year—with a chance to return to the Super Bowl—but they would certainly have to make changes next season as their payroll explodes.

Looking for an escape from San Francisco?

There is also the question of whether Aiyuk wants to return, which is undoubtedly a mystery. Aiyuk was the leading receiver on a team that included stars Deebo Samuel and George Kittle and versatile running back Christian McCaffrey. There isn’t much action in the game, but Aiyuk didn’t seem to like how often he was being used. “That’s exactly why we’re leaving San Francisco,” Aiyuk’s close friend Draysin Hudson added earlier this month, noting that Aiyuk had just three catches in the Super Bowl. Of course, this sounded a bit harsh. However, he only made three catches in this playoff game. When the position was handed over to Ayuk, he didn’t try to ignore it, saying he would remain with the 49ers if it was the “right move.” He also seemed concerned on social media about his lack of catches in the postseason, as he wrote, “Don’t forget what got you there.” It’s a difficult situation for the 49ers, made even more complicated by Aiyuk’s post-Super Bowl social media activity. But Lynch still hopes he returns.

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