49ers news: George Kittle to be a $20 million tight end?

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

$20 million per year is a lot for the 49ers to dish out to George Kittle, but it’s probably worth it.

On one hand, tight end George Kittle is the best player on the San Francisco 49ers heading into 2020. Heck, Pro Football Focus thought he was the best player in the NFL overall last season.

On the other, Kittle is going to command a massive salary, as he’s due a contract extension heading into the upcoming year, and that new deal is expected to shatter the current market for tight ends.

By a lot.

Extending Kittle won’t be easy. There are already reports the Niners, no longer bathing in tons of salary cap space, and Kittle’s camp are far apart on numbers. But that’s the kind of situation a team is expected to encounter when its top offensive weapon has done nothing but break records over his first three seasons at the pro level.

In case you were wondering what those records were:

  • Kittle’s 43 receptions and 515 receiving yards in 2017 were most by a tight end drafted in Round 5 or later in the modern football era
  • Kittle’s 1,377 receiving yards in 2018 were the most by a tight end in a single season
  • Kittle’s 2,945 career receiving yards were the most by a tight end over his first three seasons at the NFL level, breaking Hall of Famer Mike Ditka’s previous record

Simply put, the Niners had themselves a bargain for a player they were paying an average of $674,574 annually on a fifth-round rookie contract.

Now it’s time for San Francisco to pay up and then some.

NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah spoke with fellow analyst Bucky Brooks on what the 49ers could be expected to dish out for Kittle’s future services, and the number was quite something:

"I think of George Kittle as part offensive tackle, part wide receiver because of his dominance in the run game. If you look at those markets, for the offensive line, it’s $16 to $18 million at the top end. For wide receivers, it’s $18 to $22 million at the top end. So I think he’s going to find his way closer to $20 [million] than he’s going to be closer to $15 [million] when this is all said and done with his deal because there’s hybrids, guys who can do a lot of things, and that’s the word we’ve used here for George Kittle, but then there’s another level.I just call him a unicorn. There’s nobody else like George Kittle in the NFL."

A $20 million tight end.

Let’s put things into perspective a bit. The Los Angeles Chargers’ Hunter Henry’s current contract is worth an average of $10.6 million annually. Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper is right behind him at $10.5 million annually.

Anyone who’s watched Kittle the past three years understands, however, Kittle is far more than what both Henry and Hooper offer their respective teams. And when considering Kittle is breeching wide receiver-type money, the Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones has that mark at $22 million annually.

So much of what happens next is predicated on an anticipated salary cap increase in 2021. In light of COVID-19 and expected revenue loss this upcoming season, though, the once hoped-for $40 million increase to $240 million is likely to be much less, perhaps in the ballpark of $215 million.

San Francisco is projected to have $49,781,160 in cap space in 2021 against this number, per Over the Cap, but that doesn’t account for possible free-agent re-signings such as safety Jaquiski Tartt, offensive tackle Trent Williams, cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams, though.

There are a few directions this development could go. Kittle could play out the final year of his rookie deal and cash in on what would be a massive contract in 2021, potentially somewhere else other than with the Niners. The 49ers could place the franchise tag on him, too, which might not be popular but would at least extend the window for further negotiations. Or the Niners could dish out the money necessary to retain their best offensive weapon in many, many years.

Next. 5 players 49ers can't afford to lose to injury in 2020. dark

$20 million reasons per year, according to this estimate.

Hat tip to 49ers Webzone for the find.