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Whither Aiyuk

San Francisco receiver could be on the move

I will be interested to see how this Brandon Aiyuk situation plays out. He wants to be paid. He deserves to be paid. But I don’t think the 49ers can or will give him the kind of contract Aiyuk could get from other teams.

A.J. Brown and Amon-Ra St. Brown just signed massive extensions. Four years and $120 million for St. Brown, with $77 million guaranteed. The Eagles gave Brown a three-year extension worth $96 million, with $80 million guaranteed.

Aiyuk is watching this unfold as he enters the fifth and final year of his rookie contract. He has outperformed his salary thus far, making $12.5 million in his first four years (not $12.5 million per year, but $12.5 million total). He’s slated to make $14.1 million this season.

He’s due for a big raise, with the only question being how much.

I think it can be fairly argued that Aiyuk is on par with those two recently enriched receivers. He hasn’t caught as many balls, but that’s more a reflection of how the 49ers have chosen to use him. He would be a 100-catch receiver were he plunked into any number of offenses.

Aiyuk has been remarkably effective/efficient. He averaged a league-high 12.8 yards per target last year (not yards per reception, but yards per pass play, including incompletions). That’s the best of anyone on record. That is, the league started tracking targets back in 1992; since that time, 1,324 players have had seasons with at least 100 targets, and Aiyuk has been almost a yard better than all of them. This includes every season in the careers of Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, Julio Jones, Andre Johnson and Terrell Owens.

PLAYERS AVERAGING 11 YARDS PER TARGET (1992-2023)
YearPlayerTgtRecYdsTDYPT
2023Brandon Aiyuk, S.F.105751,342712.78
2023Nico Collins, Hou.109801,297811.90
1998Eric Moulds, Buff.116671,368911.79
2000Torry Holt, St.L.139821,635611.76
2011Victor Cruz, NYG131821,536911.73
2021Deebo Samuel, S.F.121771,405611.61
2022Jaylen Waddle, Mia.117751,356811.59
1992Michael Irvin, Dall.122781,396711.44
2021JaMarr Chase, Cin.128811,4551311.37
2017Tyreek Hill, K.C.105751,183711.27
2020Justin Jefferson, Min.125881,400711.20
2000Randy Moss, Min.129771,4371511.14
2005Santana Moss, Was.134841,483911.07
2018Mike Evans, T.B.138861,524811.04
2019Chris Godwin, T.B.121861,333911.02
2008Steve Smith, Car.129781,421611.02

Many teams have been calling on Aiyuk, and the 49ers created additional flexibility to move him by selecting Ricky Pearsall at the end of the first round. Some kind of mega deal could go down today, and it could involve either Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel. (Samuel is also really good, but he’s two years older and has problems staying healthy, given his physical playing style.)

The 49ers also have to factor in where they’re at as a team. They’re right on the cusp of maybe winning a Super Bowl. That’s a lot more likely with Aiyuk rather than Pearsall in the starting lineup.

Price tags on wide receivers won’t be going down, with Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb and JaMarr Chase all moving into position for new contracts (those are three of the few receivers I would say are better than Aiyuk).

Could be a big day in San Francisco (and an even bigger day in some other city).

—Ian Allan

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