ESPN buys into Brandon Aiyuk rumors, predicts 49ers trade him this offseason

Just because ESPN predicts the 49ers trade Brandon Aiyuk does not mean it's the right thing to do.

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11)
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11) / Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA

ESPN is predicting the 49ers trade their best wide receiver, Brandon Aiyuk, this offseason after not getting a new extension done.

There are plenty of logical reasons why one might assume wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk might not play for the San Francisco 49ers anymore.

The 2020 first-round NFL Draft pick out of Arizona State is entering his fully guaranteed fifth-year option on his rookie contract, but he's also seeking out long-term stability while being rewarded for his contributions to the Niners, notably being their No. 1 receiver in back-to-back years.

For a San Francisco squad that's already $3.72 million over the salary cap in 2024, also faced with relatively little cap space in 2025, an extension could be a problem.

Aiyuk also wants (and deserves) to be a featured weapon on offense. Despite leading the 49ers in receiving yards over the last two seasons, he's still arguably the No. 4 most-recognized weapon on the Niners offense behind fellow wideout Deebo Samuel, tight end George Kittle and running back Christian McCaffrey.

No wonder some of his closest friends have hinted that Aiyuk will be playing elsewhere in 2024.

That speculation, and the context surrounding it, led to one ESPN insider predicting that San Francisco ultimately moves Aiyuk via a trade this offseason.

ESPN's Dan Graziano: 'Aiyuk ends up getting traded'

In an offseason prediction piece by ESPN's Dan Graziano, he predicted the 49ers ultimately trade Aiyuk.

Here's what he had to say about the would-be move (h/t Grant Cohn of Sports Illustrated):

"The most likely way this shakes out is Aiyuk ends up getting traded to a team where he's the clear No. 1 wideout and where he can get the extension he wants, leaving the 49ers to draft his replacement in the first round. That's the cleanest way for them to address all of their needs. I see San Francisco extending (Talanoa) Hufanga and coming to some sort of arrangement with (Kyle) Juszczyk and (Dre) Greenlaw that keeps them both around. That leaves the 49ers to run it back with the same basic core, some upgrades in key spots and Aiyuk cheering them on from afar."

Related story: ESPN reveals painful truth about Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk

There's precedent for this kind of move.

In 2020, back when Aiyuk was drafted, the 49ers traded star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts after being unable to reach terms on a new extension. Despite Buckner's prowess and popularity, the Niners ultimately felt that was the best move possible.

With a tougher cap situation facing general manager John Lynch now than in 2020, financially, moving Aiyuk makes sense.

But is it the right play?

Cohn argues against it by saying that Aiyuk is "worth more than $25 million per season considering Deebo Samuel gets almost $24 million per season and Aiyuk is better and younger than him."

Indeed, it was hard to ignore the fact that quarterback Brock Purdy developed a special chemistry with Aiyuk last season, so taking away one of the signal-caller's favorite weapons probably isn't a recipe for ongoing success.

This is, of course, little more than speculation at this point. But, until Aiyuk winds up getting an extension, he'll likely be the subject of trade talks all offseason.

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