Why Brandon Aiyuk trade rumors are more smoke than fire

Yes, Brandon Aiyuk might look a lot like Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

But that doesn't mean a trade is imminent.

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (R) and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Allen Robinson (L)
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (R) and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Allen Robinson (L) / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages

Brandon Aiyuk trade rumors are heating up again, but there's not a lot of substance to them aside from cryptic social media posts.

The San Francisco 49ers can never go a full offseason without some sort of controversy or pain point.

Heading deeper into 2024, that worry is whether or not star wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk winds up being a trade commodity as he enters the fully guaranteed fifth-year option of his original rookie contract signed back in 2020.

Understandably, after back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons as the Niners' leading pass-catcher, Aiyuk is also seeking what promises to be a lucrative and sizable contract extension.

With the wide receiver market blowing up, and San Francisco already boasting plenty of top-dollar contracts for its star players, paying Aiyuk and also budgeting money for what'll also be a hefty extension for quarterback Brock Purdy in a year's time will be a difficult challenge for general manager John Lynch and Co.

Aiyuk understands this, and he also understands that he's still not receiving the recognition as a star that some of the 49ers' other well-known players have, names like Purdy, running back Christian McCaffrey, tight end George Kittle and fellow wideout Deebo Samuel.

So, it's understandable why there might be both concern and speculation that Aiyuk gets moved this offseason amid the challenges the Niners face in trying to extend him.

Brandon Aiyuk fuels trade speculation, which does have some precedent

Almost immediately after San Francisco's Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last February, Aiyuk's circle shared some cryptic points that suggested 2023 would be the receiver's final year with the red and gold.

During a subsequent press conference, Aiyuk told reporters he would like to stay with the 49ers "if that's the right move."

Yet recent rumors have teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers looking into a trade with Aiyuk, and the receiver's subsequent actions on social media didn't help squash the chatter that it could be something in the works:

Aiyuk's post on Twitter/X comparing himself to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin adds to the drama.

Especially knowing that Aiyuk doesn't post on the platform much at all.

Plus, as Ari Meirov of the 33rd Team pointed out, there is a precedent for the Niners when it comes to trading star players when they can't reach terms on an extension:

As Meirov helped fans recall, San Francisco traded away Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round NFL Draft pick back in 2020 after not being able to agree on extension terms.

Adding to the speculation, Meirov also points out how this year's wide receiver draft class is awfully deep, potentially giving the 49ers plenty of options to replace Aiyuk, should he be on the move.

But, is that the case?

Is there any merit to Brandon Aiyuk trade rumors

Short answer? Yes, there's merit. It's possible.

But the proverbial "smoke" ends there with awfully little fire.

Social media is often a tool used by players in contract discussions. After all, how many times have players unfollowed their own teams' social media accounts while undergoing some sort of contractual dispute? It happens quite often, and cryptic posts (and even trade requests that go public) are all part of the discourse.

Remember Samuel's own well-documented trade request after his All-Pro 2021 campaign? That ultimately ended in an extension with the Niners.

San Francisco will have a hard limit on how much it'll be willing to spend on Aiyuk. If he asks for more, yes, a trade is feasible. The 49ers likely won't want to retain him for the final year of his current contract if he's ultimately going to be a distraction.

That said, the Niners also know how valuable a weapon he is, especially as a preferred target for Purdy.

Considering San Francisco likely has one more year open for its Super Bowl window with this particular core of players, parting ways with Aiyuk makes awfully little sense. It might even be smarter to let Aiyuk walk in free agency in 2025 while letting him bet on himself in a contract year instead of trading him now for a mere draft pick.

Even top-drafted players don't always work out. The 49ers found that out the hard way with Buckner's replacement, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.

It doesn't seem as if the Niners would want to make that same mistake twice.

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