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Should the 49ers consider not​ paying Brandon Aiyuk?



There’s good news and bad news for the 49ers.

The good news is, when they convene for training camp in late July, they may not be asked every day: “How will you overcome the pain, agony and soul-crushing nature of your overtime Super Bowl loss?”

The bad news is, they may instead be asked every day: “Why isn’t Brandon Aiyuk here? Why aren’t you giving him a $30 million-per-year deal? And how concerned are you with Mike Silver’s ‘Hunger Games’ analogy resulting in a macabre battle royale in your wide receiver room?”

Gee, given that, I’ll take the SB hangover questions any day, as I was just saying to my good friend Marv Levy.

It was our pal Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area who gently suggested that the 49ers and Aiyuk may not, after all, come to a long-term, big-money agreement. Maiocco said that, the longer this goes on without an agreement —and with Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jaylen Waddle and even Justin Jefferson reaching agreements — the more he thinks the 49ers might “kick the can down the road” and let Aiyuk play this 2024 season under his fifth year, locked in at $14 million.

Well. That’s a different mode than most of us figured about two months ago, before the name “Ricky Pearsall” was uttered darn near midnight Eastern on a cold Detroit night at the NFL Draft.

And can we shout out that house band at the NFL Draft with wedding party vibes providing an unlikely backdrop to the Pearsall pick? You had to imagine both Deebo Samuel and Aiyuk chilling in their cribs, wondering how the Pearsall pick affected their football and financial future, while the band blasted a cover of the Beatles “I Saw Her Standing There.” Surreal, but ain’t that America? 

Here’s the thing from Jock Blog HQ: as much as I enjoy #11 in red and gold, and as much as the “Ladybug Leap” vs the Lions saved our sanity and gifted us the sweet feeling of a Super Bowl berth, the more I hear the idea of Aiyuk playing out the fifth year of his contract without an extension as a reasonable alternative.

I keep thinking of Bill Walsh. WWTGD? What would The Genius do?

I can’t be certain, because I’m not Bill Walsh, nor did anyone mistake me for Walsh through the years we shared the Earth. And while we’re at it, shout out to the days when Walsh would sit in the KNBR studios and do entire afternoon shows with the late Ralph Barbieri. There’s still hope for the likes of a Jim Harbaugh to do so when he hangs up the whistle.

To answer the question, Walsh would probably not extend Aiyuk.

He’d probably make Aiyuk play under that fifth year at $14 million, although the fact that Walsh never coached in the salary cap era sort of dilutes my hot take.

I keep thinking Eddie DeBartolo, a players’ guy all the way, would pay Aiyuk — particularly since it might grant salary cap relief in the short term, the better to ink Brock Purdy next year.

From a football perspective, you play 2024 with Aiyuk, Deebo, Jauan Jennings and Ricky Pearsall as four threatening wideouts, not to mention George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey still gathering in the huddle on third-and-6, also.

You see how it plays out. You watch Silver’s ‘Hunger Games’ play out. Who stays healthy? Who produces? How does Pearsall evolve? How much of a leap does Jennings make? 

And then you wake up in February 2025 either: a) next to a shiny Lombardi Trophy on your pillow; or b) a landscape where you make a decision on who you want to keep.

It’s on the table, sports fans. As Christian McCaffrey said this past week, “business is business.” 

Hey, it’s better than talking about the gosh darn Super Bowl overtime coin flip, right?