Why 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk playing on 5th-year option intrigues Jeremy Fowler

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Brandon Aiyuk probably wants to avoid playing on his fifth-year option. Although it would earn him $14.124 million in 2024, it is far below his market value. Similarly, the San Francisco 49ers likely want to avoid approaching the $30 million annual salary that might end the wide receiver’s holdout.

Last week, Michael Silver of the San Francisco Chronicle reported what was likely the 49ers’ latest offer to Aiyuk, stating, “I’m hearing maybe their offer’s in the $26 million range, which, you know, it’s certainly not Justin Jefferson money, nor should it be, but it’s closer to that DeVonta Smith, Amon-Ra St. Brown, that next tier down.”

Suppose the two sides can’t reach a mutually beneficial agreement, and Aiyuk neither requests a trade nor chooses to sit out the upcoming season. In that case, he might have to play on the fifth-year option and reassess his situation next offseason. One NFL insider, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, is particularly curious about that scenario.

“I’d almost like to see that, not necessarily specific to Aiyuk, but just when teams challenge players like that, how do they respond?” Fowler said on Bay Area radio station KNBR’s “Murph and Markus” show. “Do they sit out? Is this something that is compelling throughout the year? Do they end up just having to play on it because they don’t want to incur too many fines? That’s the song and dance that you probably don’t see as much of anymore.

“And that’s probably why the market has got so explosive with these players making massive numbers. One, the cap’s gone up a lot every year, but two, you kind of see less of the holdouts and less of the stare-down that deep into things.

“I’d be curious how Aiyuk would handle that. I don’t know for sure, but on one end, it’s like, okay, you’re really not going to get this done, and then you take it really personally, and then maybe you don’t show up for camp. Or the flip side is, [with] players like him, if you make it to free agency and you’re coming off another 1,300-yard season, and you’re set up to make even more than you would have, teams will have to overpay for you. That is attractive to some players, depending on who it is.”

Fowler notes that it might be tough for Aiyuk to pass up the guaranteed money of the fifth-year option and join his teammates as they compete for another shot at a championship. Plus, sitting out the season might prolong things, depending on how much time the receiver potentially misses.

For the 49ers, it creates an awkward situation, forcing one of their star players to play out the season while disgruntled.

As for where things currently stand in the negotiation process, Fowler remarked, “The sides have talked, and it’s probably reached a little bit of a stagnation point. But I don’t think that’s overly concerning because the last time they got a wide receiver deal done at a high [cost] was Deebo Samuel. I believe it was two years ago. It happened in July. So this is the time where teams can reset. Front offices are taking time off a little bit now as they get through minicamp, and they’re in the summer. But certainly, there’s no reason to majorly panic until you get to late July, early August.”

Fowler adds that this is a complicated deal since Aiyuk has established himself as one of the NFL’s best receivers. However, he is in a different tier than a player like Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings, who recently became the league’s highest-paid non-quarterback.

Fowler commented, “[Lions WR] Amon-Ra St. Brown hit the $30 million mark, and I believe that’s a benchmark for Aiyuk, at least in some metrics. You’d like to either match or beat him, so it makes it complicated.”

You can listen to the entire conversation with Fowler below.

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