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Farabaugh: This is the Biggest Hurdle for Steelers Landing Brandon Aiyuk

The Pittsburgh Steelers could be in on a trade for Brandon Aiyuk, but it will take some tendency breaking to land him in the Black and Gold.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Trade Target San Francisco 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk warms up before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 10, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been speculated as a landing spot for 49ers star Brandon Aiyuk. That’s not a surprise, considering the team has shopped around for a wide receiver after trading Diontae Johnson in March. However, after moving him, the team has not yet found a willing suitor that fits what they want out of a possible trade to pair someone with George Pickens.

Over the summer, the options have continued to dwindle. Guys like Darius Slayton and Courtland Sutton now seem less likely to be moved. That leaves Aiyuk remaining as the apparent big fish on the market. While the Steelers would likely not have an issue paying Sutton $16 to $17 million per year, Aiyuk’s contract demands appear to be hefty amid the massive surge at the wide receiver position. Considering Aiyuk is in the conversation to be a Top-10 receiver, he wants to get in on the upswing.

The 49ers have reportedly offered Brandon Aiyuk $26 million annually, but he wants money somewhere around Amon-Ra St. Brown. His trainer, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, said he would make a deal around St. Brown’s contract, but he has become increasingly pessimistic about his chances of re-signing with the 49ers.

“At one point, he thought he may sign,” Houshmandzadeh said on 95.7 the Game. “So it was like, ‘I’m not gonna come out because I might have to go when I sign.’ And so that optimistic outlook has turned into a pessimistic outlook now. Like, damn, at one point he thought, ‘Hey, I might be leaving soon.’ So now, it’s like, ‘I have no idea.”

 

Pittsburgh Steelers San Francisco 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk

49ers wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel celebrate after a touchdown, Sept. 11, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

So, what’s the hurdle? Sure, giving up a high draft pick could give the Steelers hesitancy. But they have traded premium picks and seem willing to do it, too. For example, the Steelers’ interest in Jaylon Johnson a season ago was genuine. They traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick. However, neither player is approaching the type of contract that Aiyuk will want, especially considering that the price for Aiyuk might be a first-round pick.

Consider that the Steelers have shown an aptitude for adding premium players and have a thing for positional value with general manager Omar Khan. That means if they will pay someone record-breaking money in franchise history and throw $30 million annually at a position they have drafted spectacularly well over the team’s history, it would have to be a premium position.

That’s the argument for Aiyuk coming to Pittsburgh. He fills the void, and the team’s philosophies do add up to make sense. But the Steelers have yet to trade a high draft pick for someone and then pay a massive contract. I think the draft picks are less contentious than most would think. If the Steelers were unwilling to trade a significant pick, why wade into the waters of elite wide receivers?

The Steelers have George Pickens ascending, and he will likely expect to be paid next offseason. Whether the team expresses interest in doing that will likely come down to his third season and the maturity he shows throughout what could be yet another rocky ride.

So, that could factor into all of this. The Steelers are projected to have a hefty amount of cap space in 2025, but all of that is due to expiring contracts across the team, including holes at quarterback. Brandon Aiyuk would eat into that, but it’s not crazy to think the Steelers can pay Aiyuk.

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Brandon Aiyuk

49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk celebrates after a touchdown, Sept. 11, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

This is all feasible. The idea of a trade is not malarkey. But if you want to look at the biggest hurdle for Aiyuk coming to Pittsburgh, the biggest one is not the draft picks it would take to land him but the exorbitant contract he would want to go with the trade.

The Steelers generally build through the draft and will pay T.J. Watt a significant amount of money once again. But trading for someone and making them the highest-paid player in franchise history? That detours from the Steelers’ history, even under some tenants that Khan has worked with during his limited tenure.

So, for now, call me skeptical that the Steelers would work up to Aiyuk’s reported asking price of nearly $30 million annually. If the Steelers decide to trade the picks and pay Aiyuk, you can officially stamp this as a ‘new era.’

Aiyuk is a phenomenal player who would change the Steelers’ offense. A premium pick and contract are significant investments for a team that has no specific answer at quarterback in the future. Still, it would show their commitment to making the big swing to become competitive in the playoffs once again.

But call me a skeptic that Pittsburgh would take such a big swing on both fronts, for now.