Much to Trent Taylor's dismay, the 49ers and George Kittle remain very far apart when it comes to the start tight end's new contract.
Kittle, who is set to earn $2.133 million this season, wants to be paid like a top wide receiver or offensive tackle, two positions which make significantly more than tight ends. But NFL Media's Mike Silver reported Friday that there still is a "significant disconnect" between the 49ers and Kittle.
"There remains a pretty significant disconnect philosophically between the 49ers and George Kittle's camp," Silver said. "The 49ers believe they want to reset the tight end market and give him a great tight end deal. Kittle's kind of saying, 'I'm more than just a tight end,' ... If you look at him as a tight end then sure George Kittle could reset the market. Kittle, who was just voted the seventh-best player by his peers, who in my opinion has earned that distinction is thinking, 'I don't want to be viewed as a tight end for the purposes of these negotiations."
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Kittle is entering the final year of a four-year contract he signed as a fifth-round draft pick back in 2017. Since being drafted out of Iowa, Kittle has emerged as the premier tight end in football, becoming the only tight end in 49ers history to record a 1,000-yard receiving season. He set the NFL single-season record for yards by a tight end with 1,377 in 2018, and followed that up with 1,053 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games last season.
When asked if he thought Kittle would play this season for $2.133 million, Silver noted that if Kittle got frustrated with the negotiations he always could opt out of the season due to the coronavirus, take the $150,000 check and continue the talks while not playing. Kittle relishes his role as a leader on this 49ers team, and loves to play football so it's hard to see Kittle choosing not to play as the 49ers look to return to the Super Bowl and finish the job this time around.
Kittle certainly has a case to be paid along the lines of a top pass-catcher/tackle and not just a tight end. Kittle is the 49ers' best receiving threat and a key blocker in their potent rushing attack. Resetting the tight end market likely would see Kittle get somewhere around $13 million annually. Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper currently is the highest-paid tight end on a multi-year deal at $10.5 million annually. Kittle likely is seeking a deal that sees him paid as a versatile offensive weapon and not just a tight end, something similar to the four-year, $64 million contract that Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey signed that will see him make $16 million annually.
The 49ers currently have time and the collective bargaining agreement on their side. Kittle is under contract this season, and if he holds out he will be hit with stiff financial penalties. The 49ers also have the franchise tag at their disposal and could tag him next season for $11 million, tag him in 2022 for around $13 million and then again in 2023 for around $16 million.
That's likely not a road the 49ers would go down as to not sour the relationship with their best player, but it does show how little leverage Kittle has at the moment.
The 49ers spent the offseason giving contract extensions to coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. They also reworked running back Raheem Mostert's contract after he made a public trade demand. The Kansas City Chiefs, who beat the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, took care of Patrick Mahomes and Chris Jones this offseason.
It's fair for Kittle to wonder when he's going to get the paycheck he's rightfully earned.