George Kittle: Revenue loss in 2020 could affect 49ers tight end

George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The 49ers’ George Kittle will be the highest-paid tight end in NFL history, but…

San Francisco 49ers All-Pro tight end George Kittle isn’t going anywhere.

At least not according to general manager John Lynch, who said as much to 95.7 The Game earlier this offseason.

“George isn’t going anywhere,” the GM said last April. “We’re going to work hard to try to get it done. I think they’ve got motivation just to really reset the tight end market, as do we, for him. It’s just finding that sweet spot, where that is.”

Kittle, who set the record for single-season receiving yards by a tight end back in 2018, also set another record for most yards by a tight end over the first three years of his career, breaking Hall of Famer Mike Ditka’s previous mark. And in 2019, Pro Football Focus named Kittle the league’s best player overall.

The thing, though, is Kittle is playing on the final year of his rookie contract, which is set to make him just over $2 million in 2020.

Needless to say, George Kittle is worth far more.

Kittle’s new deal, whether it be via extension or a lucrative free-agent contract in 2021, is expected to shatter the current market for tight ends, currently set by the Los Angeles Chargers’ Hunter Henry at $10.607 million per year. It wouldn’t be shocking to see Kittle earn top wide receiver money, perhaps in the range of $15 million or $16 million annually.

All this is fine and dandy, of course. Especially when considering FanSided’s February report the 2021 NFL salary cap could increase by roughly 40 percent up to $240 million. While the 49ers aren’t necessarily swimming in cap space right now, a good chunk of that money could have been allocated to re-signing Kittle.

Except that was before COVID-19, which is going to cause more than a handful of problems for the upcoming season. Stadiums could be filled to a fraction of the capacity, or fans could be prevented from attending at all. And while television revenue could increase some, the net income for the league could ultimately cut into the NFL’s ability to increase the cap in 2021.

Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer explained further, specifically how this could affect someone like Kittle:

"I would expect teams to be cautious in doing long-term deals with star players in the coming months, especially in situations where those teams have the flexibility to wait. The reason? If there’s a revenue shortfall this year, and the cap equation spits out a number lower than the $198.2 million figure in place from 2021, it’s pretty unlikely that the league and union will leave that as is. …Who will that affect? Probably not Patrick Mahomes. But young non-quarterbacks could find the financial going a little tougher over the next couple months, and it could make things rather interesting with young stars like Chargers DE Joey Bosa, Jets S Jamal Adams, and 49ers TE George Kittle, all of whom will likely seek to set new standards at their positions."


So this is where things could get problematic for Kittle and the 49ers. There’s a strong argument Kittle could sit out until he receives a new deal, which wouldn’t be a horrible move on his part considering his level of importance to San Francisco. And Kittle’s camp is surely aware just how much more of a complete a tight end he is to someone like Henry, thereby breaking open the market for the position.

Yet the Niners are arguably the most shrewd and well-prepared team in the league when it comes to negotiating contracts and navigating the salary cap. It’s possible Lynch and his staff work out a deal where they bank on the NFL revenue streams being there in, let’s say, 2022 and 2023 after COVID-19 concerns die down a bit. That would, at least in theory, allow San Francisco to backload the deal while prorating out a solid signing bonus right out of the gate.

These aren’t easy facets to negotiate, of course, and so much of it depends on what Kittle wants to do.

Next. 3 49ers players who'll break out in 2020. dark

Simply put, though, a projected revenue loss in 2020 could hinder the salary cap, which in turn, hinders the 49ers’ abilities to make George Kittle one of the highest-paid players in the league in the very near future.

Hat tip to Kyle Posey of Niners Nation for the find.