Brandon Aiyuk

Why Fowler is intrigued by idea of Aiyuk playing on fifth-year option

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Brandon Aiyuk still is searching for a new contract with the 49ers, and the star wide receiver likely will be absent from team activities until the two parties find a solution.

However, the 26-year-old already has an offer: playing out the fifth and final year of his current contract, which will pay him $14.1 million, per Spotrac.

The risks of having a lackluster season or being sidelined with injuries are very real and likely weigh heavy on the four-year NFL veteran. But according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, who recently discussed Aiyuk’s situation with KNBR's "Murph and Markus,” the receiver’s best bet might be playing out the 2024 NFL season.

"I'd be curious how Aiyuk would handle that,” Fowler recently told Brian Murphy and Markus Boucher (h/t 49ers Webzone’s David Bonilla). “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."

Aiyuk has tallied 1000-plus receiving yards in each of the past two seasons, and he has gotten better with each campaign. Fowler believes the Arizona State product should try to set himself up for a big free-agent contract in 2025.

Plus, Aiyuk is one of -- if not the -- top target for 2023 NFL MVP finalist and 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy. San Francisco might be more tempted to throw the wideout the bag if the Purdy-Aiyuk duo dominates for the second consecutive season. 

Rightfully so, Aiyuk wants a pay raise and long-term security as soon as possible, while San Francisco wants to inexpensively operate and remain a well-rounded Super Bowl contender -- two vastly different approaches.

Fowler also noted that Aiyuk should expect a salary that rivals Detroit Lions wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown, rather than the Minnesota Vikings’ Justin Jefferson, who just signed a record-breaking four-year, $140 million contract extension.

"Amon-Ra St. Brown hit the $30 million mark, and I believe that's a benchmark for Aiyuk, at least in some metrics,” Flower added. “You'd like to either match or beat him, so it makes it complicated."

It’s unclear what route the 49ers and Aiyuk will ultimately head down, but things remain cloudy.

The best-case scenario, and surely the one the Faithful are hoping for, would be the two parties settling on a fair number ahead of a push for a Super Bowl LIX victory.

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