Putting together a Super Bowl contending team is hard. Keeping it together is even harder, and the San Francisco 49ers and tight end George Kittle are learning that.
One of the key talking points in the San Francisco camp this offseason has been keeping Kittle. After making second-team All-Pro in 2018, Kittle continued his meteoric rise with 1,053 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2019, all but solidifying him as an elite tight end in the NFL.
Finding that kind of weapon in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft has proven to be a shrewd move from general manager John Lynch and the 49ers front office, especially considering that the 49ers have only had to pay Kittle a grand total of $1,888,713 in his first three seasons.
While Kittle is scheduled to earn just over $2.1 million in 2020, another season of incredible value, the 49ers also recognize that locking Kittle into a long-term deal is imperative. The question is, is what Kittle wants what he deserves, and do the 49ers have the cap space to offer it?
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What Could Kittle’s Contract Look Like?
Compared to other positions like quarterback, tight ends in the NFL generally don’t get truly insane deals. The two highest-paid tight ends in the NFL, Tampa Bay Buccaneer Rob Gronkowski and Minnesota Viking Kyle Rudolph are each making around $9 million in 2020.
Kittle certainly deserves to reset the tight end market, but the tricky part is by how much? Does his value transcend the positional market and make him worthy of a contract that could double that of the next closest tight end?
NBC Sports talked with an anonymous agent of the 49ers, who threw out a specific number that would pay Kittle what he deserves as well as making it reasonable for San Francisco.
“Every day they wait, he gets more expensive,” the agent said. “They would be smart to just bite the bullet and give him, say, $14 million per season and $30 million guaranteed now. In two or three years, it will look like they got off easy.”
That’s a number that the 49ers can actually pay as well, considering that the team only has $11,957,942 in cap space according to Spotrac. Shifting around contracts and trimming some financial fat could make it a possibility for the deal to happen this season.
However, if Kittle and his agent Jack Bechta think he’s deserving than something more than that, the 49ers will likely be forced to franchise tag the tight end in 2021.
Bechta’s Comments on Kittle’s New Contract
Bechta talked to NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco early this month, giving some insight on where the two sides are. Bechta said:
Right now, there is not a comp for George. He’s unique. He’s a unicorn. He’s one of a kind. George is a very special player. He needs a special contract. And those things take time for both sides. It’s a nice problem for everybody to have. At the end of the day, I trust the Niners will do the right thing and take good care of George, as they should. But I trust the process. I won’t comment where we’re at, or numbers or anything like that. But hopefully it gets done.
While Bechta showed optimism, his comments about Kittle being “one of a kind” also shows that he and the tight end aren’t going to settle for a standard elite contract.
Evan Reier is a sportswriter covering the San Francisco 49ers for Heavy.com and local sports for the Montana Standard in Butte, Mont. Reach out to him on Twitter at @evanreier and join our 49ers community at Heavy on 49ers on Facebook.