Trading for WR Brandon Aiyuk is not the no-brainer decision Steelers fans think it is

Brandon Aiyuk is an incredible talent, but are the Steelers in a position to make a trade of this magnitude?

San Francisco 49ers v Pittsburgh Steelers
San Francisco 49ers v Pittsburgh Steelers / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages
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When an opportunity arises to land one of the best wide receivers in the NFL during the prime of his career, it seems like a no-brainer, right? The league's top offensive weapons don't become available often, and teams should be chomping at the bit to get a difference-maker. It just so happens that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a crucial need at wide receiver, and Brandon Aiyuk could be available for trade.

Aiyuk was one of the best receivers in football during the 2023 season. In 16 games, the talented wide-out racked up 1,342 yards and 7 touchdowns on just 105 targets (12.8 yards per target), and his 17.9 yards per reception ranked near the top of the league. As a result, Aiyuk earned a remarkable 92.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus -- making him the highest-graded receiver in the NFC.

After the Steelers traded Diontae Johnson to the Carolina Panthers, they were left with a gaping hole at the wide receiver position. Outside of George Pickens, there isn't a quality option on the roster to fill this void.

Recently, Aiyuk has been rumored in connection to Pittsburgh, and fans are ecstatic over the potential to land a dynamic play-making receiver in 2024. But this isn't the no-brainer decision many Steelers fans think it is.

The asking price is too steep for the Steelers to trade for Brandon Aiyuk

According to Jaguars reporter Mia O'Brian, the 49ers were seeking Jacksonville's No. 17 overall pick and WR Zay Jones in exchange for Brandon Aiyuk in a trade.

This means that a similar deal for the Steelers could be pick No. 20 overall and WR Calvin Austin III. Assuming San Francisco was interested in this package, most fans could get on board with this.

But there's a much bigger factor that continues to be ignored.

Brandon Aiyuk is set to play the 2024 season on the fifth-year option. This means that his cap number is $14.124 million (fully guaranteed) for the upcoming season. This is a bargain for an elite wide receiver in the prime of his career, but it won't stay this way for long.

If Aiyuk is traded, the arrival of his new team will come with a lucrative contract extension. Based on the going rate of the league's top wide receivers -- and knowing that the names at the top continue to leapfrog each other as the salary cap increases -- we are looking at a massive contract extension that will pay Aiyuk in the ballpark of $27 million to $30 million per season in new annual earnings on his next deal.

This is a ton of money to dish out. If his new money exceeds $28 million per year, he will be more expensive than T.J. Watt. So it's not just giving up a first-round pick and a receiver, it's also turning around and making Aiyuk one of the top-paid non-quarterbacks in the entire NFL.

This lofty contract could have a ripple effect on the Steelers over the next several years that would make it hard to build their roster from the foundation with young cornerstone players (and they would have one fewer first-round draft pick to do so).

I can get behind a Brandon Aiyuk trade for several NFL teams, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are not one of them. While Aiyuk would give them a boost with new quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Justin Fields in the building, it won't be enough to catapult them as legitimate AFC contenders.

The Steelers simply have too many glaring roster holes and not enough cornerstone players on their roster to believe that they are just a 'Brandon Aiyuk' away from Super Bowl contention. Trading for Aiyuk might seem like a no-brainer, but the cost is too great and Pittsburgh is not in a position to pull the trigger on a move of this magnitude.

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