As the San Francisco 49ers inch closer to the 2020 season, the lack of a new contract for tight end George Kittle seems to be a bigger and bigger problem.
Contract negotiations for All-Pro players like Kittle are never easy, but it seems like a deal that has to be done no matter what it takes, even if that means paying the former Iowa Hawkeye beyond what his positional market dictates.
Retired NFL receiver and NFL Network analyst Nate Burleson echoed this sentiment on Good Morning Football Thursday, saying that if Kittle is asking for receiver money, then San Francisco needs to pay it.
The variables? Is he great with the fans? He’s tremendous. Does he speak very well in front of the camera and represent your organization? Yes, definitely. Is he a guy that you can count on that is going to be a leader and put the team in front of himself for years to come? Check, check, check, check.
I’m telling you, San Francisco, lock this guy in and give him the biggest contract you can. Reset the market, if that’s what it takes; pay him like a wide receiver, if that’s what it takes, because guys like this don’t come along every year.
Burleson is correct in the fact that guys like Kittle are rare: two Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections in a player’s first three seasons is rare, especially when tight ends like Kansas City Chief Travis Kelce are playing at the same time.
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Kyle Brandt Talks About How 49ers’ Identity Relies on Kittle
Talking with Burleson and the rest of the GMFB roundtable, Kyle Brandt added his opinion about Kittle’s place in the 49ers’ organization after the contract Derrick Henry received from the Tennessee Titans the day prior.
I would rip from the headlines with Derrick Henry, the Titans decided we’re not the Titans without Derrick Henry. That’s us. That’s our identity. We could get another running back, sure, but this is our guy. He does everything we want as an offense. And I think Kittle is the same way.
I think what’s interesting about Kittle’s personality, he is so modest, and so, almost maddeningly, team-oriented, I bet he’s almost reluctant to take a huge contract because he is that good of a teammate. And just a prediction: I bet you he takes less than he can get because he wants to get back to that Super Bowl so badly.
While some of what Brandt’s said is pure speculation, he does bring up the valid point that Kittle has proven that he cares immensely about the team he’s around. In the NFL, however, nothing is guaranteed so it’s not like the 49ers can just rely on Kittle’s “team-oriented” attitude: they have to satisfy him in the context of the NFL.
Kay Adams Compares Kelce, Kittle to NFL Receivers
Fellow host Kay Adams added a different context, bringing up Kelce to highlight how the Chiefs’ tight end signed a mega deal a few years back, but it doesn’t equate to how receivers are paid and how they impact their teams.
“Travis Kelce signed a huge deal three years ago, $9.3 million a year,” Adams said. “He’s the third-highest paid tight end. There are 26 wide receivers set to make more than Travis Kelce in 2020. And there’s nothing wrong with these receivers, but they aren’t impact guys like Kelce is to their respective teams.”
That’s the biggest factor for Kittle and the 49ers: Kittle brings more value and impact than a receiver does. So why wouldn’t he be paid accordingly?
The answer lies in the fact that the 49ers have a ton of big names and contracts to juggle. Considering it led to a Super Bowl appearance last season, it’s not the worst problem to have.
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.