George Kittle's contract negotiations with the 49ers will hang over training camp like a dark cloud until it is resolved.
The star tight end is entering the final year of a four-year deal he signed as a fifth-round draft pick, and is due a lucrative extension that should see him become the highest-paid tight end in the NFL. Kittle and the 49ers have gone back and forth all offseason, and while Kittle arrived at training camp Tuesday to get his coronavirus test, the sides still are far apart, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday.
"From what I understand the two sides have had conversations, have negotiated a potentially massive, long-term deal that of course would make him the highest [paid] tight end in the NFL," Rapoport said on "Good Morning Football." "From what I understand, though, it doesn't feel like the two sides are particularly close on anything. ... Really since [Rob] Gronkowski and Travis Kelce the [tight end] market hasn't moved. Kittle should move it in a serious, serious way. It just hasn't happened yet.
"Meanwhile, the other interesting, somewhat odd dynamic for the 49ers is Kyle Shanahan just got a big new deal, John Lynch hinted that a new deal could be coming for himself. This is an organization that always takes care of its core players, Kittle is one. When is Kittle going to get his deal?"
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Kittle has blossomed into a star since arriving in the NFL. He is the only tight end in 49ers history to have a 1,000-yard season, and he set the record for most receiving yards by a tight end in 2018.
The tight end market is a strange one, as Rapoport noted. Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper currently is the highest-paid tight end on a multi-year deal at $10.5 million annually, while Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry is the overall highest-paid tight end at $10.6 million on the franchise tag.
Kittle is set to make $2.133 million this season after making $1.96 million combined over his first three seasons.
The negotiations between the 49ers and Kittle could go on for some time if they are as far apart as Rapoport suggests. Kittle wants to be paid like a top pass-catcher and not just a tight end, which would see him land somewhere in the $17 million range. Because he's such a versatile weapon, some believe Kittle is in line for a Christian McCaffrey-type contract that saw the Carolina Panthers star get $64 million over four years with $38 million guaranteed.
Kittle is in line for a big payday, and the 49ers will give it to him. it's just a matter of finding level ground in the negotiations.