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.
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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.
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.
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