If there's one thing we've learned this offseason, it's that premier NFL players will still get their money no matter the circumstances. After Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes changed the quarterback (and sports) landscape forever earlier this spring, Myles Garrett and Joey Bosa followed suit at edge rusher.
Now, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle has seemingly pulled off a similarly impressive feat and is reportedly set to sign a five-year, $75 million extension, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Mike Silver.
The #49ers & star TE George Kittle are in agreement on a 5-year, $75M extension, sources tell me & @MikeSilver, one that gives him more than half of it in guarantees. Language is being worked on, but numbers are there. One of their top players, this was a big-time priority ????????????
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 13, 2020
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The deal reportedly guarantees $30 million at signing and includes $40 million guaranteed for injury, which is a big chunk for the 49ers.
When it comes to their recent contract extensions, the team has utilized large roster bonuses early in order to front-load cap hits — the most notable example being Jimmy Garoppolo's deal in 2019. However, this obviously means that short-term cap space becomes tight before freeing up room in future years. Perhaps Kittle's extension marks a shift as the 49ers now try to keep this talented group around for years to come.
While Patrick Mahomes, Myles Garrett and Joey Bosa were all top-10 picks, George Kittle was drafted in the fifth round at No. 146 overall. As such, the star tight end was set to earn just $2.133 million in cash in 2020.
Teams also aren't shy about using the franchise tag on tight ends, as it cost just $10.6 million for 2020. With all of this leverage at the negotiating table firmly in the 49ers' favor, Kittle stuck to his guns and got the deal he deserved.
Very few players in the NFL are as important to their team's offensive scheme as Kittle is to the 49ers', as he's been San Francisco's go-to receiver over recent years. Over the past two seasons, Kittle has 234 targets and 173 catches — both third amongst tight ends — which are by far the most of any player on the 49ers at any position.
When the 49ers found themselves behind with time running out against the New Orleans Saints in a battle for seeding last year, it was Kittle who the team turned to on multiple plays, eventually resulting in the catch-and-run highlight that sealed the comeback.
That was one of the biggest plays of the 49ers' season last year; it was vital in them securing top seeding in the NFC and ultimately may have been the difference in the team making the Super Bowl or not. That work after the catch has become a hallmark of a player who has now become one of the most difficult-to-tackle pass-catchers in all of football.
Kittle might be third in targets and catches over the past two seasons among tight ends, but he leads the field by more than 500 yards after the catch. The gap between Kittle and Travis Kelce in second is as big as the gap between Kelce and Jonnu Smith, who comes in 13th place on the same list.
Some of this is because Kyle Shanahan's system has become peerless at scheming athletic tight ends open off the back of play-action passes and with the help of intricate route concepts over the middle of the field, but some of it is because Kittle is a juggernaut with the ball in his hands. He also leads the field by more than 200 yards after contact on his receptions and has broken 13 more tackles than any other player at his position.
Not only is he one of the most dangerous and efficient receivers in the league, but he's also a dominant run-blocker, which is what made Rob Gronkowski incomparable for years. Kittle is a blocking stud in an era when that has been de-emphasized to the point where a deficiency in blocking is no longer something that precludes success at the position, though excelling at it still brings plenty of benefits. He has the kind of power to crush defensive backs but also has the technique and determination to control defensive ends who outweigh him by the type of margin that he outweighs defensive backs.
Kittle is a throwback to the days when tight ends were matchup problems because they did everything well. He is one of the few players at his position to bring as much value as a wide receiver, and he is vitally important to the 49ers offense.
Kittle needed to put up these incredible numbers to reset the NFL's most dormant position market, in which Jimmy Graham's $10 million average per year deal from 2014 was still the pinnacle until Austin Hooper signed for $10.5 million per year with Cleveland in March.
Unlike Hooper, however, Kittle truly reset the tight end market. At an average per year of $15 million, it's the richest tight end deal in NFL history as a percent of the salary cap, at roughly 7.56%. Jimmy Graham's 2014 extension was good for 7.5% of the salary cap at signing. Garrett and Bosa didn't accomplish that feat at edge rusher, and while Mahomes did at quarterback, the cost was a decade of service.
That being said, tight ends don't often see a substantial third contract, so a five-year extension for Kittle that runs through 2025 is probably as much of a lifetime contract as Mahomes' deal through 2031.
Rob Gronkowski is still — even after retirement! — playing on the six-year extension that was signed in 2012, and Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz each have two years remaining on their five-year extensions signed in 2016, which will take them through their age-32 and age-31 seasons, respectively.
Nevertheless, perhaps Kittle can follow in Graham's footsteps once more and eventually leave the NFC West to steal some money from an NFC North team or two before retiring.
- 49ers' George Kittle is the PFF Dwight Stephenson Award winner for 2019
- PFF Rankings: The NFL’s top 15 tight ends ahead of the 2020 NFL season
- McFarland: 2020 fantasy football tight end rankings tiers
- The NFL’s best wide receivers by route type
- The NFL's best performers in the fourth quarter and overtime in 2019