George Kittle’s contract situation is worth watching because of the combination of two factors. The 26-year-old All-Pro is right to aim for a salary well north of what the NFL’s top tight ends earn. And the 49ers, if they so choose, could get away with not paying Kittle what he wants.
And what he wants, his agent Jack Bechta recently told NFL Network, appears to be something more like what the NFL’s top wide receivers are making.
“I don’t care about the tight end market,” Bechta said, via ESPN. “I’m being paid to do a George Kittle deal.”
Kittle is scheduled to earn $2.13 million (including a performance bonus) in 2020, the fourth and final year of a rookie contract that has averaged $674,572 per year since the 49ers drafted him in the fifth round in 2017. Which is a joke compared to the money Kittle’s top-of-the-line tight end peers are making.
Below are the NFL’s highest-paid tight ends in terms of average annual salary, via Spotrac:
- Hunter Henry, Chargers — $10.607 million
- Austin Hooper, Browns — $10.5 million
- Travis Kelce, Chiefs — $9.4 million
- Rob Gronkowski, Buccaneers — $9 million
- Kyle Rudolph, Vikings — $9 million
- Zach Ertz, Eagles — $8.5 million
- Jimmy Graham, Bears — $8 million
- Jared Cook, Saints — $7.5 million
- Darren Waller, Raiders — $7.45 million
- Tyler Higbee, Rams — $7.25 million
Yes, Kittle making roughly a quarter of Jimmy Graham’s salary in 2020 would be ridiculous given the former’s undeniable impact, but the 49ers have leverage. San Francisco in theory could let Kittle play out the upcoming season on his current salary and then franchise tag him in 2021.
Hunter Henry’s tag amount this year makes him the NFL’s highest-paid tight end at $10.6 million, which presumably is much less than the salary Kittle is seeking. In that sense, if Kittle is looking for wide receiver-like money in the $15 million-or-more range, even a second consecutive tag in 2022 would save the 49ers money.
But don’t expect too much hardball from a team that appears to value a player who was such a crucial part of its Super Bowl run last season.
“George isn’t going anywhere,” 49ers general manager John Lynch recently told KGMZ-FM 95.7 The Game. “We’re going to work hard to try to get it done. I think they’ve got motivation just to reset the tight end market, as do we for him. It’s just finding that sweet spot, where that is.
“When that happens, I don’t know. But we’re working hard, as are they, to try to make that happen. George is going to be a part of the 49ers for a long, long time.”