49ers

NFL rumors: 49ers' George Kittle expected to reset tight end contract market

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AP

NFL rumors: 49ers' George Kittle expected to reset tight end contract market

George Kittle, entering the final season of his four-year rookie contract, is in line for a big payday when he eventually signs a contract extension with the 49ers. But the tight end reportedly is one of a handful of players expected to reset the market at the positon this offseason. 

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sunday morning that "[multiple] sources around the [NFL]" think Kittle, Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper (a pending free agent) and Philadelphia Eagles star Zach Ertz (one year, $6.4 million left on his contract) are set to "redefine the value" of tight ends with big paydays this summer. 

Kittle set the NFL single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end last year, and he leads the 49ers with 60 receptions for 754 yards this season. He is in the top five among tight ends in both categories, despite missing two games with -- and subsequently playing through -- a serious ankle injury. 

Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph ($9.35 million) was the highest-paid player at the position not on a rookie deal this season, and Kittle's reported likelihood to set precedent for tight ends drives home the 49ers' financial realities this offseason. DeForest Buckner also is eligible for an extension, while breakout defensive tackle Arik Armstead is eligible for free agency. 

[RELATED: NFL coach still not sold on 49ers' Jimmy G in long term]

Over The Cap projects the 49ers having just over $24 million in salary-cap space next season, which would make it difficult to extend all three players, especially if the final year of Kittle's -- and/or Buckner's -- deal is restructured. The 49ers can free up space by cutting players such as running back Jerick McKinnon and wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, and NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco wrote Saturday that he can't see McKinnon playing on his 49ers deal as is in 2020 or Goodwin playing for San Francisco at all. 

The 49ers likely will prioritize re-signing Kittle and Buckner. Based on Kittle's career and Schefter's reporting, they know the tight end won't come cheap. 

How Kyle Shanahan's bold play call set 49ers up for Super Bowl berth

How Kyle Shanahan's bold play call set 49ers up for Super Bowl berth

SANTA CLARA -- It did not come as a surprise to those in the huddle when 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan dialed up a running play on a third-and-8 situation in the first quarter of a scoreless game.

Those 11 players on the field might have been the only ones who weren't shocked by the decision.

“Our coach is a genius,” 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey said.

Shanahan’s call and running back Raheem Mostert’s sprint through the Green Bay Packers defense was a key play in the 49ers’ 37-20 victory in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. The victory advances the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, Feb. 2, against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The 49ers cruised to a 27-0 lead at halftime, and it all started with a unique play call given the circumstances.

Shanahan told his offense throughout the week that they could exploit some of the Green Bay Packers’ exotic third-down defenses with third-and-long trap plays out of the shotgun formation. Shanahan believed he could use the aggressive tendencies of Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine against him.

With the ball on the Green Bay 36-yard line, the 49ers could potentially have gone for it on fourth down had Mostert gotten close to the first down. Or the 49ers could have gained some yards to merely give kicker Robbie Gould a closer shot at a field goal.

“It would have depended how close it was, but if not we would have been happy with a field goal,” Shanahan said. “For him to take it to the house was a lot better than anticipated.”

On the play, Packers linebacker Kyler Fackrell lined up over the left guard and was allowed an unblocked path into the backfield. He stumbled, and right guard Mike Person came from the other side to block him, keeping him out of the play.

Outside linebacker Preston Smith got upfield on the left edge but Mostert sped past him after taking the handoff from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Left guard Laken Tomlinson blocked elite pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith and left tackle Joe Staley sealed off an inside linebacker to open a big hole for Mostert.

Mostert outraced everyone to the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown run – the first of his four touchdown runs on the day. It was even better than how Shanahan drew it up.

“He’s ballsy and he trusts us,” McGlinchey said of Shanahan. “That’s the coolest thing. He does these things in the game plan and he views everybody, all 11 guys on offense, as a weapon. He puts us in matchups where we can succeed. That was something we worked at all week and something we knew we could exploit.”

Said Jimmy Garoppolo, “It's part of the game plan, and Kyle called it at the perfect time. It was a great set up. It was awesome.”

A week ago, the 49ers ran the ball 47 times in a blowout victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. They were even more run-heavy on Sunday, as Garoppolo completed just six of eight passing attempts for 77 yards.

Shanahan’s play call on third down set the tone for the remainder of the half, and the remainder of the game. The Packers never were able to unleash their pass rush – in large part because the 49ers rarely dropped back to pass.

“We were going to hit a run play on a third-and-long, but it had to be the right situation,” Staley said. “They got into the (defensive) front we wanted.”

Said Person, “Nobody is expecting that on third-and-8, so he (Mostert) jets upfield and that’s taking advantage of what they want to do. You give up some penetration on that, and all he needs is a little seam.”

Once Mostert gets into the clear, he almost is impossible to catch because of his breakaway speed. On Sunday, he set the 49ers record for most rushing yards in a game – regular season or postseason. Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns in 29 attempts.

[RELATED49ers report card: Grade on offense, defense in NFC title win over Packers]

Shanahan said he figured they were going to run the ball a lot. But he never would have thought there would be such a large disparity. The 49ers attempted 42 run plays and called just nine passes.

“We were hoping to do something like that going in,” Shanahan said. “But you never plan for it to be like that. When you're watching how the guys were running and everything, and then watching how our defense was playing, it made it very easy to stick with, even the third downs and stuff.

"The guys played as aggressive as any team I've been on, and they made it very easy to call plays.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday)

Why Richard Sherman's NFC title-sealing interception was so fitting

Why Richard Sherman's NFC title-sealing interception was so fitting

SANTA CLARA -- Richard Sherman plays left cornerback in the 49ers' defensive scheme. He doesn’t shadow receivers, but moved around a bit early in Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. He was tracking Davante Adams for a little while to give the Packers something else to think about, but he eventually locked in on the left.

He still matched up with Adams at times, including a fourth-quarter play where Adams beat him badly on a 65-yard bomb down the sideline.

That was a real rarity. Sherman doesn’t get targeted much, and almost never gets torched like that. But, as usual, the veteran cornerback had the last laugh.

He intercepted another deep volley intended for Adams that sealed a 37-20 victory over the Packers that sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

After a raucous postgame celebration where he got a little emotional, Sherman took us all through that play.

“They ran a corner post. We were in quarters coverage,” Sherman said. “I just kept running. I knew it wasn't necessarily my responsibility, but I knew he was going to take the shot there and go for the gusto. Just wanted to track the ball down, give us a chance. I was tracking. I thought it was kind of out of my reach for a while. I was going to go for the bat down. And, as I got my feet under me, I noticed I could get under it and I was able to do it.”

It was a big moment and a quick reversal of fortune for someone who got beat a few plays earlier. But the rebound wasn’t surprising to those who study the 49ers intently.

His fourth postseason interception -- and the second of this playoff run -- filled his teammates with pride. They thought the moment fitting, considering their defensive leader closed out another important game.

“It was awesome,” rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw said. “He looked like a receiver on that play. I’m glad he made up for it, man. The deep ball got him earlier, but he’s a captain on our team and we know you can’t get Richard too many times.

“We knew they needed to go downfield given the score, and he was right there, made the play and got us the victory. I’m excited to play with a guy of that caliber. He’s a legend. I’ve been watching Richard since I was a young kid. To play with him and learn from him is a blessing. It’s a dream come true.”

The play itself was pretty athletic, considering how far he had to run to get the ball. But nobody was surprised he was able to get there and officially close things out.

“It was amazing,” slot cornerback K’Waun Williams said. “To be out there and have Richard finish this game off was great.”

[RELATED: Grading 49ers offense, defense in NFC title win vs. Packers]

Young defenders listen to Sherman closely, and his words can have as much of an impact as his on-field play. The 49ers stayed focused in the second half despite a commanding 27-point lead thanks to practicing what Sherman preaches.

"Sherm has done a great job of keeping our emotions from getting too high,” rookie edge rusher Nick Bosa said. “It really is a long game and a lot of different things can happen. You can’t get overhyped about one play or one series or even a first half. His biggest message was to keep the foot on the pedal the entire game.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday)