These contracts show how underpaid 49ers' George Kittle is in 2020

These contracts show how underpaid 49ers' George Kittle is in 2020

This isn't a secret anymore: 49ers star tight end George Kittle is due for a big payday in the near future. What might not be realized is just how underpaid Kittle is right now.

Kittle, a former fifth-round draft pick, is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He is due to make just over $2.1 million this year, which is wildly low compared to other tight ends around the NFL. 

Just how underpaid is Kittle? His 2020 salary is tied for the 35th-highest (!) among all tight ends, according to Spotrac. Cethan Carter, a Cincinnati Bengals special-teamer who's listed as a tight end, will make the exact same amount as Kittle this season. Carter has two receptions for 13 yards in his career. 

The 49ers have to pay Kittle, and possibly very soon. After the Kansas City Chiefs were able to pay quarterback Patrick Mahomes his record-breaking contract, and still were able to sign defensive tackle Chris Jones long-term, the heat very well might be on for general manager John Lynch and the rest of San Francisco's front office. 

"If the Super Bowl champs can say we're going to give a record-breaking contract to our best player, then it sure seems to me there's pressure on the 49ers to do the same thing and give a record-breaking deal -- albeit at the tight end position -- to their best player," NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco recently said on an episode of The 49ers Insider Podcast.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Kittle is a special player who deserves a special contract. He's both a dominant receiver and game-changing run blocker. There's a reason Pro Football Focus graded him as the best overall player in the NFL last season. 

While Kittle once again eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards despite missing two games with leg injuries, he was just as good at creating holes for running back Raheem Mostert and the rest of the 49ers' rushing attack. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo steers the ship, but Kittle turns the offense into a bulldozer combined with a sports car. 

[RELATED: What 49ers can learn from Chiefs' deals with Mahomes, Jones]

The 49ers have a ton of contract decisions to deal with ahead of next offseason, but none is bigger than keeping Kittle in Santa Clara. 

There aren't many players like Kittle in the NFL -- he's in a league of his own. Right now, though, he's paid like a backup.

And that has to change in a hurry.

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Kyle Shanahan already seeing 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo take next step

Kyle Shanahan already seeing 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo take next step

After coming six minutes short of a Super Bowl title, the 49ers spent all offseason defending quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Sure, they internally discussed bringing in Tom Brady, but Garoppolo was always going to be their guy. The 28-year-old is coming off a solid season that saw him complete 69.1 percent of his passes and finish in the top five in touchdowns (27), completion percentage (69.1) and yards per attempt (8.4) while leading the 49ers to a berth in Super Bowl LIV.

Both coach Kyle Shanahan and Garoppolo have been open and honest about the fact that the quarterback can make a big improvement during the 2020 season. Through the virtual offseason program and early on in training camp, Shanahan already is seeing Garoppolo take the next step and is confident his quarterback can make the necessary improvements in his second full season as a starter.

"Jimmy did some real good things, but he's just getting started," Shanahan said Thursday on KNBR's "Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks." "And that's why Jimmy's not a finished product. He's almost a second-year quarterback with a lot more mental experience because he's been around the league. But I'm excited for him to go into his second year, especially, last year when he came back, coming back from the ACL, just in training camp and stuff, he worked hard on all the mental stuff. But you can tell what a guy's concern is. When you're coming off an ACL, your concern is, 'Man, can I do this?' That takes a guy a while to get into stuff.

"Me seeing him now, talking to him on Zooms, but really just seeing him throwing with the wideouts on air, and getting into these walk-throughs, you can tell that he wasn't working on his ACL all offseason. He's been working on everything that he learned through his experiences of last season. And when you can do that, I don't see how you won't get better."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Garoppolo was a little rusty during the first half of the 2019 season. Shanahan has admitted he relied more on the run game to try and ease his quarterback back into the flow after Garoppolo missed almost the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL.

But Garoppolo started to find a flow during the second half of the season, leading the 49ers to come-from-behind wins against the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. The 49ers didn't ask a lot of Garoppolo in the NFC playoffs, as they used their running game to steamroll the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.

Garoppolo had an up-and-down performance in Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs. He was efficient during the second and third quarters when the 49ers built their lead, but the later overthrow of Emmanuel Sanders is the play that will stick in everyone's mind.

[RELATED: Jimmy G makes positive first impression on Williams]

Garoppolo and the 49ers enter the 2020 NFL season with revenge on their mind.

Armed with a loaded roster that is ready to win now, the 49ers are primed to get back to the Super Bowl and finish the job this time around.

If Garoppolo can make the leap Shanahan expects out of him, that could be the final piece in a championship puzzle for the 49ers.

NFL rumors: Seahawks 'talking to both' Everson Griffen, Clay Matthews

NFL rumors: Seahawks 'talking to both' Everson Griffen, Clay Matthews

Jadeveon Clowney no longer fits into the Seattle Seahawks' plans -- nor is he a consideration for the 49ers -- due to the free agent's salary demands. It's difficult to see a path in which he would return for a second season with the Seahawks -- that is, unless he significantly lowered those demands.

Nobody, including the Seahawks, is counting on that. Consequently, they reportedly have turned their attention to two other free agent pass-rushers: Everson Griffen and Clay Matthews.

NFL Media's Mike Silver reported Thursday that Seattle could soon come to an agreement with one or both of the veteran free agents.

"The Seahawks' price has come way down," Silver said. "Clowney's price, if anything, is above their original $15 million-plus offer. So, maybe the (Tennessee) Titans, but we'll see on Clowney. But yeah, Everson Griffen -- long career with the (Minnesota) Vikings -- and then Clay Matthews, who had I thought a pretty good year with the (Los Angeles) Rams after he was healthy after his long run in Green Bay. Two former (USC) Trojans who can get after the passer. They are talking to both and I think a move could come pretty quickly, at least with one of them."

Griffen was drafted by the Vikings in the fourth round in 2010 and has spent his entire career with the franchise up to this point, amassing 74.5 career sacks over that span. Matthews, meanwhile, spent the first 10 seasons of his career with the Packers before joining the Rams for this past season. He has totaled 91.5 sacks over 11 seasons, including 8.0 in 2019.

[RELATED: Bosa believes Kinlaw will 'kill it' in his 49ers rookie season]

Both Griffen and Matthews would present a significant upgrade for Seattle's pass rush, particularly considering Clowney is unlikely to be a part of it. The Seahawks' 28 sacks last season tied for the second-fewest in the NFL. Their adjusted sack rate also ranked 30th in the league, and that was with Clowney.

While Griffen and Matthews have both been productive, neither is the potential game-wrecker that Clowney is. Nonetheless, should Seattle add one or both of them, it should only make the Seahawks more competitive within the NFC West.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]