George Kittle is participating in training camp, but the elephant in the room doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon.
The 49ers tight end is entering the last year of his rookie contract, and thus is eligible to sign a massive contract extension. Jack Bechta, Kittle's agent, told NFL Media's Mike Silver on Sunday that the sides haven't made much headway.
"[Bechta] said progress has been minimal, and later reinforced that by texting me an inchworm emoji to underscore that fact," Silver recalled Monday on NFL Network. "It's not just money -- there is structure, and how much money a player like George Kittle could get upfront (and) how much would actually be guaranteed.
"And at the heart of all this has been somewhat of a philosophical divide between the 49ers, who say, 'Listen, we want to pay you more than any tight end ever because you're the greatest tight end,' and Kittle's camp which saying, 'Don't view me as a tight end. I was just voted the seventh-best player in football at any position.' "
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Kittle arguably has been the best tight end in the NFL over the last two seasons, setting the position's single-season record for receiving yards (1,377) in 2018 and making the All-Pro First Team last season. No other 49ers tight end has ever had 1,000-plus receiving yards in a season, and Kittle has done it twice. The 26-year-old also is a key blocker in San Francisco's running game, which accrued more yards on the ground (2,305) last season than all but one other team.
He's incredibly valuable to the 49ers, and Kittle's banking on that value translating into a precedent-smashing contract that will pay him more like a wide receiver than a top tight tend. The 49ers, at least so far, don't seem willing to go there just yet.
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Can Kittle and the 49ers bridge the divide before the start of the season on Sept. 13? Silver said this is a "big week" for the negotiations because it's the last before Kittle "puts himself in a more perilous position, potentially, when real practices start."
If this week is going to mark any kind of progress, the inchworm is going to need to evolve rather quickly.