After the best three-season opening for a tight end in NFL history, George Kittle is eligible to receive a new contract from the 49ers before the 2020 season.
It would appear both sides should prioritize a fair contract before the club is allowed to get on the field again. The biggest issue is figuring out what is fair pay for someone who does it all -- but does it at a position that ranks behind only running backs on the NFL pay scale.
“Right now, there is not a comp for George,” Kittle's agent, Jack Bechta, said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “He’s unique. He’s a unicorn. He’s one of a kind.”
Kittle, a fifth-round draft pick from Iowa in 2017, has more receiving yards than any tight end through three seasons in NFL history. He is the only tight end in 49ers history with a 1,000-yard season – and he has done it in back-to-back years. He set the league record for tight ends in 2018 with 1,377 yards receiving.
He was named first-team All-Pro in 2019 after catching 85 passes for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games.
Moreover, Kittle is a dominant blocker in the run game.
“George is a very special player. He needs a special contract,” Bechta said. “And those things take time for both sides. It’s a nice problem for everybody to have.
“At the end of the day, I trust the Niners will do the right thing and take good care of George, as they should. But I trust the process. I won’t comment where we’re at, or numbers or anything like that. But hopefully it gets done.”
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Tight ends are lagging behind most of the other positions in the NFL pay structure, Bechta points out.
Austin Hooper became the league’s top-paid tight end when the Cleveland Browns signed him to a free-agent deal that pays him $11.5 million this season and averages $10.5 million annually over the life of his four-year contract.
Meanwhile, Kittle is scheduled to make $2.133 million this season through the league’s proven performance escalator. Clearly, he is underpaid.
The 49ers have him under contract for the upcoming season. Kittle is scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the season. If the 49ers are unable to work out a multi-year extension before then, they could designate him as their franchise player to retain him on a one-year deal. Both sides do not want it to come to that.
“There are smart people at the Niners,” Bechta said. “They’ll figure it out. They love George, and George loves them. And hopefully it’ll all work out.”