Why extending 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk needs to be a priority

Amid all the trade rumors, the San Francisco 49ers must prioritize extending star pass-catcher Brandon Aiyuk.

Brandon Aiyuk hopes to remain with 49ers for a long time but understands  the NFL is a business | Yardbarker

Aiyuk, 26, is an ascending star who has yet to plateau heading into his fifth NFL season. The former Arizona St. product is coming off a stellar 2023 campaign, which saw Aiyuk haul in 75 receptions on 105 targets for a career-high 1,342 yards and seven touchdowns. Aiyuk also averaged a career-high 17.9 yards per reception and maintained a catch rate of 71.4%, both career-bests.

The 49ers offense has a ton of mouths to feed, but each of their offensive weapons complement each other quite nicely. Much of the attention from opposing defenses is focused on running back Christian McCaffrey. When he’s bottled up (which doesn’t occur often), the 49ers have the luxury of finding one of the many explosive players at their disposal on offense. Although in years past, Deebo Samuel operated as the go-to receiver much of the time, Aiyuk appeared to be quarterback Brock Purdy’s favorite target in the most critical times last season.

Aiyuk made 61 receptions that went for a first down in 2023 to Samuel’s 34. Again, this isn’t suggesting one is more valuable or better than the other; the two have different skill sets that complement each other very well in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Samuel’s a Swiss Army Knife and has the ability to take a five-yard drag route to the house at any given time. He’s as valuable as a runner after the catch or on an end-around as he is when operating the intermediate routes in the 49ers offense. Aiyuk has quickly become the 49ers’ most explosive deep threat. When Shanahan lulls you to sleep with the abundance of handoffs to McCaffrey and the short passes to Samuel and George Kittle, bam, Purdy and the 49ers hit you over the top with a big play to Aiyuk.

It’s become a common theme across the league: star players entering the final year of their current deal often threaten to hold or demand a trade if a contract extension isn’t in place before OTAs begin. Again, there is an obvious chemistry between Aiyuk and Purdy, and with the 49ers set to make Purdy the face of their franchise, let’s not forget that Aiyuk is the youngest of San Francisco’s offensive weapons. Samuel is 28 years old, but how he’s utilized in the offense makes it seem like an ‘old’ 28. Kittle, who turns 31 in October, similar to Samuel, is a violent runner after the catch. Plus, he’s one of the best blocking tight ends in football, both of which have led to a string of injuries over the years (he’s been relatively healthy over the past two, though). Last but not least, McCaffrey will be 28 years old this summer which is ancient in running back terms, and his workload doesn’t need to be described to 49ers fans. All three players mentioned have two years left on their current deal.

Signing Aiyuk long-term would benefit the 49ers, assuring they’d have an elite weapon in place as Purdy continues to come into his own entering the prime of his career. Saying it is one thing, doing it is another. The way top receivers are being paid these days complicates things, especially knowing that Purdy will be due a substantial raise. If the 49ers hope to maintain their dominance in the NFC for the foreseeable future, general manager John Lynch needs to find a way to get a deal done.

Recently, at the NFL scouting combine, Lynch mentioned that he’s hopeful an extension gets done. “Brandon’s one that we think incredibly highly of, one of my favorite guys around our building,” Lynch said at the combine, per the 49ers official website. “The way he approaches the game, he’s a competitor. He’s a warrior. He plays with such a physicality, also with a grace, the way some of the positions his body can get into. Then, he’s got a flare for making plays when it matters most, and he’s served us very well as a franchise. I think we’ve got a nice track record of extending the players that are important to us, and Brandon’s a guy we want to keep around for a long time.”

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