49ers grooming Charlie Woerner to take over for George Kittle?

Charlie Woerner #TE19 of the Georgia Bulldogs (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Charlie Woerner #TE19 of the Georgia Bulldogs (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /
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George Kittle, 49ers
George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The 49ers have been at an impasse with George Kittle’s contract extension, opening the door for Charlie Woerner to be… a replacement?

It’s weird to think this. But there’s a good chance the San Francisco 49ers will be without All-Pro tight end George Kittle in 2021.

Kittle, who is playing on the fourth and final year of his rookie contract and is scheduled to make just over $2.2 million, is going to reset the tight end market next season. It’s one of the reasons why his contract-extension negotiations with the Niners haven’t generated the desired results just yet. Both Kittle’s camp and 49ers general manager John Lynch appear to be optimistic, yes. But there’s a very likely possibility Kittle winds up testing the free-agent waters next season.

What about the franchise tag? Well, the reported decrease of the 2021 salary cap hinders that, as the cap is expected to be at $175 million next year. Currently, San Francisco has just over $170 million in total liabilities for 2021, making a tag of approximately $11 million too expensive a deal without some serious adjustments elsewhere on the roster.

A new contract, potentially in the range of $14 million per season, is also far beyond what the 49ers can currently afford to pay their best offensive weapon.

Enter the team’s rookie sixth-round NFL Draft pick, former Georgia tight end Charlie Woerner.

Before we go any further, the Niners do want Kittle back. Badly. He’s the premier player on a Super Bowl-contending team. Kittle sells tickets (well, not this season). Star power can be just as important as stats. Yet San Francisco already set a precedent earlier this offseason by parting ways with someone who has star power, trading away Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner when his cap hit and expected contract got too high. The 49ers then replaced Buckner with another rookie draft pick, South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw, in Round 1.

Kinlaw has the pedigree to replace Buckner. Kittle, however, is a generational talent. Yet there are reasons why Woerner could end up being a fall-back option for Lynch and Co.

Even if it’s tough to hear.