George Kittle may be the best tight end in football and it’s only right that he be paid accordingly. But receiving top tight-end money reportedly won’t cut it for Kittle, who remains “far apart” in contract negotiations with the 49ers.
“They are not close at all,” reported NFL Network’s Mike Silver on Friday. “There were some preliminary talks back in February, nothing for the last couple months.” Silver said if the Niners think they can pay Kittle like a tight end, they better think again. “He is their No. 1 target, so important in that locker room and clearly he is doing something that transcends what a typical tight end does.”
Drafted 146th overall in 2017, the Iowa alum has quickly established himself as one of the league’s premier tight ends, leading his team in receiving each of the past two seasons. Kittle, who broke Rob Gronkowski’s tight-end record for receiving yards (1,377) in just his second professional season, is as versatile and well-rounded as any player in the NFL. In addition to garnering ProFootballFocus’ top receiving grade among tight ends last year, the 26-year-old also earned the second-highest run-blocking marks at his position, finishing runner-up to Arizona’s Maxx Williams in that category.
More importantly, Kittle was the offensive catalyst for a resurgent Niners squad that fought Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs to the bitter end in Super Bowl LIV. Kittle’s $2.2-million base salary for 2020, the final year of his rookie deal, ranks 42nd among tight ends, trailing the underwhelming likes of MyCole Pruitt (six catches last year), Levine Toilolo (his 49ers backup in 2019) and Lee Smith (combined 60-423-8 receiving line over nine NFL seasons), among others.
Clearly Kittle is deserving of a substantial, market-setting raise and San Francisco should have the cap space to accommodate him, particularly if Richard Sherman ($14-million cap hit) walks in free agency next offseason. Silver has also acknowledged Kittle “wants to be” a Niner long term. So what’s the hold up?
“This is a difficult situation because during a pandemic, owners are not super eager to shell out massive deals,” Silver posited as one of the reasons contract talks have stalled between Kittle and the reigning NFC Champs. “There’s a lot of uncertainty.”
Speaking to 95.7 The Game last month, GM John Lynch was adamant the fourth-year tight end isn’t “going anywhere.” The 49ers could apply the franchise tag next offseason if Kittle’s camp doesn’t budge, though the former fifth-round pick could exercise his leverage by holding out. However it shakes out, the Niners know they’ll have to pay the piper—and handsomely at that.