This is the fourth installment of a nine-part series that examines the 49ers’ roster coming out of the 2019 season, looks ahead to 2020, and outlines the offseason challenges facing general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan on a position-by-position basis.
Thursday, a look at the 49ers’ tight ends.
Under contract (signed through)
-George Kittle (2020)
-Daniel Helm (2020)
For the first time this offseason, the 49ers and Kittle’s representation can negotiate a multi-year contract extension. After being a fifth-round draft pick in 2017, Kittle has greatly outperformed his contract. He is in line to become the highest-paid tight end in the league at far more than $10 million a season.
-Levine Toilolo (UFA)
-Ross Dwelley (EFA)
-Garrett Celek (UFA)
Celek, 31, announced his retirement on Feb. 7 after eight NFL seasons. Celek experienced back issues the past couple seasons and underwent surgery in June to repair a herniated disk. He played five games last season before going on injured reserve when his back flared up. He finished his career with 82 receptions for 1,104 yards and 12 touchdowns in 91 games.
Dwelley as an exclusive-rights free agent has no outside negotiating rights and certainly will be back with the 49ers for a third season.
What needs to happen
One thing needs to happen this offseason: The 49ers and Kittle must agree on a multi-year contract extension. It should happen. It has to happen.
It does not make any sense for Kittle to take the risk of stepping on the field again without first receiving a large sum of guaranteed money to reward him for the best three-season opening to a career of any tight end in NFL history.
The 49ers have produced great tight ends in their history. But Kittle is the first to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. And, now, he has done it two seasons in a row. His 1,377 receiving yards in 2018 were the most in a single season by a tight end in NFL history.
How vital is Kittle to the 49ers? His teammates voted him as the winner of the Len Eshmont Award, the team’s most prestigious honor, for his courageous and inspirational play.
Toilolo was the second-most-used tight end on the team late in the season and into the playoffs due to his blocking ability. He could be back on a veteran minimum contract.
Kittle is the best player on the team. He will continue to be the best player on the team.
Dwelley made a big jump from his rookie season to Year 2. If he can make another big improvement with his blocking, he will position himself to see a bump in playing time. He stepped in and made some big catches while Kittle was out with ankle and knee injuries in the middle of the season. Dwelley had 15 catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns on the season.
Toilolo became the team’s sixth offensive lineman, in effect, as he played 34 snaps combined in the playoff games against Minnesota and Green Bay when the 49ers dominated with their ground game. Toilolo has enough value for the 49ers to re-sign to fill a similar role in 2020.
The 49ers promoted rookie Daniel Helm from the practice squad late in his rookie season. The club originally claimed him off waivers from the Los Angeles Chargers in August. He did not see action in any games, but it was a clear indication the 49ers see something in him that they can develop for the future.