The San Francisco 49ers made some significant moves this offseason to clear salary cap space. The biggest was trading DeForest Buckner that led to him signing an $84 million extension with the Indianapolis Colts. The moves will create room to re-sign some younger players, and most significant is tight end George Kittle.
Kittle is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and the team has been working with his agent, Jack Bechta to figure out a deal. By all accounts they are still a ways apart on a contract, and it’s due in large part to the unique nature of Kittle.
Bechta has not discussed specifics about the negotiation, but in recent media appearances he’s talked about looking for a “George Kittle deal” and not a “tight end deal.” In a recent appearance on 49ers beat writer Matt Maiocco’s podcast, he talked about how unique Kittle is and how limited the tight end contract market has been.
“[R]ight now there is not a comp for George. He’s unique, he’s a unicorn. He’s one of a kind. So, that’s a problem for both sides. Not a problem, it’s a challenge. And in the tight end position, the tight end economy is draconian, it’s outdated. It’s just, it’s not fair for any of these great tight ends, not just George, but all of them, to have to adhere to it, or be tied to numbers that haven’t moved in six years. It’s just not fair, they shouldn’t be punished for it.”
Kittle has set the record for most receiving yards through his first three seasons. He is coming off a second straight 1,000-yard receiving season that came amidst a season in which he dealt with an assortment of injuries. When you factor in that he is arguably the best blocking tight end in the league, the factors for a mega-contract add up.
The tight end market has not really changed since Jimmy Graham signed a four-year, $40 million contract in 2014. Hunter Henry is currently the top paid at $10,607,000, but that is due to the application of the franchise tag. Austin Hooper signed a four-year, $42 million deal with the Cleveland Browns this offseason. He has $23 million in guaranteed money, $18.5 million of it being fully guaranteed. That is the most for a non-rookie contract, with T.J. Hockenson’s rookie deal worth a fully guaranteed $19,821,226. Travis Kelce is next behind Hooper with a $46 million total deal, $20,017,000 in guaranteed money, and $10,517,000 fully guaranteed.
Kittle will exceed all of these deals, but finding the right spot is going to be difficult. His pass-catching is like that of a great wide receiver, while the closest blocking comp might be the top offensive linemen. Rob Gronkowski currently has the highest total value at $54 million, but even that only has $13,170,000 in fully guaranteed money.
There is no word yet on if Kittle will stay away from training camp if a deal is not done. For fantasy purposes, it seems like he’s on track to arrive and play it out even without a deal, but this will be a situation to track if the contract does not get done by August.