Joe Starkey: Steelers must make 49ers an offer they can't refuse for Brandon Aiyuk

Joe Starkey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

PITTSBURGH — I'm probably going to be a fan of this Steelers offseason no matter what.

They blew up their road-to-nowhere quarterback situation and tried something radically different. That doesn't mean it'll work, but you have to respect the effort. They had what appears to be a second consecutive stellar draft. They executed a classic addition-by-subtraction maneuver by sending Diontae Johnson south (I'm told his flight to North Carolina went backward the whole way), and maybe most of all, they brought in Patrick Queen.

How about this guy?

Can you become a Steelers legend before you play a game?

Queen's trying. The Ravens can't stop talking about him. Queen doesn't need to talk back, not when he delivers the kind of cinematic brilliance he displayed Wednesday.

Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey was the latest ex-teammate to pipe up on a podcast, saying Queen might soon discover he never should have left Baltimore. The story appeared on under the headline: "'Reality Sets In:' Ravens' Marlon Humphrey Tells Patrick Queen Pittsburgh's Grass Might Not Be Greener."

Queen responded with a silent movie Charlie Chaplin would be proud of: 19 seconds of Queen sipping what appears to be beer from a wine glass as he waters his lawn.

I wasn't as big a fan of the Cameron Sutton move, for a variety of reasons, though he came cheap and could thrive as a slot corner after being miscast as something more than that in Detroit.

Now, it's time for the hammer: Assuming he hasn't done this already, general manager Omar Khan must make his San Francisco 49ers counterpart, John Lynch, an offer he can't refuse for wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, a 26-year-old star who had 1,342 yards receiving, seven touchdowns and the second-highest yards-per-catch average in the NFL (17.9) last season. The Steelers could probably survive without a star to pair with George Pickens — who led the NFL at 18.1 yards per catch — but surviving is about all they've done for the past seven years under Mike Tomlin.

I'd rather thrive. The Steelers still need something to separate themselves in what promises to be brutal divisional and conference races. They aren't paying anyone big money on offense. They will have more than enough cap space to pay Aiyuk.

They should have made this kind of blockbuster trade two years ago for then-Bears linebacker Roquan Smith but instead watched the Ravens swoop in. They did make a similar trade a few years earlier when they stunned the football world by dealing a first-round pick to Miami for second-year safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. The Steelers knew they would eventually have to sign Fitzpatrick to a mega deal, which they did in 2022, making him the highest-paid safety in the NFL.

The Aiyuk saga has been a topic for months, but it took a turn earlier this week when Aiyuk appeared on a TikTok video — one he obviously knew would go viral — telling his former college teammate Jayden Daniels that the 49ers "don't want me back."

The 49ers do want him back, of course, but at their price. And the price keeps going up for receivers, six of whom have signed extensions worth more than $24 million this offseason. The cost of a new Aiyuk deal likely would land at upwards of $30 million per season. Question is, what kind of return would push Lynch toward trading him?


Would the Steelers be willing to part with a first-round pick?

Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network posted the following on X: "If Brandon Aiyuk is truly available via trade (don't know) I could make a strong argument Pittsburgh would be a perfect match."

Is he available? Well, it's like your house: It's available if somebody makes the right offer, yes? The 49ers have a way of keeping their stars, though Lynch clearly has attempted to secure the receiver position in case he jettisons either Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel at some point in the next year-and-a-half.

The best summation of their situation comes from Bay Area reporter Michael Silver, who posted the following three days ago:

"Very short version of where things stand with 49ers and their receivers:

1. They drafted (Ricky) Pearsall in the first round. He is a big part of the present and the future.

2. If Aiyuk ends up taking their best offer, Deebo will be gone after 2024.

3. If Aiyuk doesn't take their best offer, and (presumably) plays on the fifth-year option, it's Hunger Games between him and Deebo to see who stays beyond 2024.

4. There's still a chance Aiyuk or Deebo could be traded between now and the November deadline, if the offer's good enough and/or if things have devolved with Aiyuk."

If the offer's good enough. I would absolutely dangle next year's first-round pick. I'd compare it to the Fitzpatrick deal. You just pretend Aiyuk is your first-round pick, with the catch that you have to pay him like a free agent.

Lynch might be inclined to wait, but that doesn't mean the Steelers shouldn't make their best offer — if they haven't already.

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