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Niners GM John Lynch on possibly extending Brandon Aiyuk: 'You want a guy' like him going forward

Keeping together a star-studded roster is costly.

The 49ers, stacked to the brim with talent, have as many big money decisions to make as any team in the NFL in the coming years.

One of biggest involves the fate of wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who has blossomed into a star for San Francisco and will enter the 2024 season on his fifth-year rookie option in need of an extension.

"You have to prioritize all these things," general manager John Lynch said Tuesday when asked if extending Aiyuk is his biggest offseason priority. "You know Brandon's entering his fifth-year option, Brandon's been a fantastic player for us. Kyle (Shanahan) calls him a warrior all the time because of how he goes out and competes. And that shines through to anybody, whether you're a trained eye or you're a fan, you can see the passion he plays with, you can see the production that he's had. We're extremely prideful in what he's become, and he should be as well.

"And so your team is comprised of veterans who've been paid very well, of guys who want to be paid very well. We've got one guy on our team who's pretty prominent who can't be paid real well right now because the CBA doesn't allow, so it's all one big puzzle. We've developed a cadence over the years, Kyle and I, where he focuses on the season, we do all the planning, and then we present things to him and we work through it, and that's what we'll continue to do. But of course, you want a guy like Brandon Aiyuk to be a part of you going forward."

Despite playing fourth fiddle to San Francisco's flashier-named skill players -- Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel -- as far as recognition goes, Aiyuk has been the Niners' most prolific receiving option for two straight seasons.

An occasional guest to the Shanahan doghouse early on his 49ers tenure, Aiyuk had a career-high eight touchdown receptions in 2022 while leading the team in both catches (78) and yards (1,015).

He followed that up in 2023 with a team-leading 75 catches and 1,342 yards, and his seven TD catches tied for most on the roster.

Such contributions make him an instant candidate for an extension. The 49ers are sure to explore the possibility as Lynch said, but they are already locked into hefty price tags for several other offensive playmakers and have a Brock Purdy extension coming down the pike in a couple years that must factor into all decisions moving forward.

Left tackle Trent Williams, who confirmed he wants to continue playing, is the most expensive player on the offense going into 2024 with a $31.6 million cap number, per Over the Cap, while the three aforementioned weapons around Aiyuk make up the list right behind Williams.

Samuel and Kittle have a combined $50.6 million cap hit, and McCaffrey is the NFL's highest-paid running back on a per-year average in a league trending away from big paydays at the position.

Lynch and the rest of the front office might therefore require some wizardry, but Aiyuk is well worth it.

The importance of his numbers on the field outweigh the hurdle of those on others' contracts -- even if he faded somewhat in the playoffs.

He posted just nine catches for 149 yards and a score across San Francisco's three postseason games. His catch percentage plummeted from 71.4 in the regular season to 45.0 for the playoffs, lower than all but one outing from 2023.

That, coupled with an overtime loss in the Super Bowl, possibly led to an outflow of emotions from the wideout on Tuesday as he cleaned out his locker.

"If that's the right move, yeah," he said when asked if he hopes to remain a 49er.

Questioned about what the right move looks for him, he added, "Being a champion."

There's nothing to suggest Aiyuk, due $14.1 million in his final year of his deal, won't be back with the Niners in 2024, but he was still on the verge of tears toward the end of his media availability when sharing what he'll remember about the team's current roster iteration and nodding in response to Super Bowl LVIII being the hardest postseason loss he's experienced.

If the Niners make all the right moves this offseason, perhaps his tears will be of the happy, Lombardi-inspired variety next year at this time -- possibly with a contract that keeps him in San Francisco for the long term.

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