Why 49ers tight end George Kittle deserves to get paid like top receiver

Why 49ers tight end George Kittle deserves to get paid like top receiver

George Kittle has been the best 49ers receiver the last two seasons and it’s not even close. He has 2,430 yards in that span, a sum better than everyone on the planet except Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans and Travis Kelce.

The first four make an average of $16.2 million or more per season.

Kelce makes just over half that on an extension signed in 2016. It’s not because he’s less valuable or those stats are a fluke. He was limited by the position he plays.

Tight ends make far less than their receiving brethren despite playing a versatile and vital position in the modern NFL.

Kittle will fight the same stigma trying as he tries to work out a seemingly inevitable contract extension with the 49ers this offseason. He does everything asked of a receiver and more, yet somehow his work is worth less.

The Iowa product surely will shatter the record $54 million in total dollars given to Rob Gronkowski way back when, and the average $10.5 million per year Austin Hooper got from the Cleveland Browns on a four-year deal this offseason.

Kittle should sign a record-setting deal in every metric even if the market’s depressed a bit due to possible adjustments made over the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that might lead to flat salary cap or smaller-than-usual increase. Any discussion of difficulties maximizing his earning power ignore the greater point.

Kittle shouldn’t be boxed in by the position he plays. Elite is elite no matter where you are in the formation, be it in-line or out wide. Kittle isn’t just one of the NFL’s best tight ends, for all that job entails. He’s one of the NFL’s best receivers regardless of position.

His yardage total the last two years bears that out. His 3.12 yards per route run was the NFL’s best in 2019. His 2.82 Y/RR in 2018 was second only to Jones.

His 7.3 yards after the catch per reception also led all receivers and tight ends. His 9.9 YAC/reception in 2018 was the NFL’s best among those positions by nearly four yards, per Pro Football Focus.

All that proves he shouldn’t just set the market for tight ends. He should get paid comparable to those who produce like him in the passing game. Evans is in that production range, and the Tampa Bay wideout is working under a five-year, $82 million contract extension signed in 2018 with $55 million in guarantees and $38.2 million fully guaranteed.

It’s hard to fathom Kittle getting that sum, even during a normal offseason, due to the “T” and “E” next to his name on a lineup card.

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

Jimmy Graham tried to break through the tight-end ceiling back in 2014, after he recorded 1,215 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns for New Orleans the previous season. The Saints placed a franchise tag on him at the tight end rate, which was roughly $5 million lower that the receiver amount.

Graham didn’t like that one bit. He eventually filed a grievance demanding to be viewed as a receiver. He lost. Then he appealed the arbiter’s decision, but agreed to a four-year, $42 million deal with New Orleans before that case was heard.

Graham was almost exclusively a receiving tight end trying to be re-categorized. Kittle’s an elite receiver and a tenacious run blocker, something clear during the NFC playoffs when he helped the 49ers dominate on the ground. PFF graded him as an elite run blocker ranked fifth in that category last year over 472 snaps working in the run game.

[RELATED: Kittle, four other 49ers future contract conundrums to get done]

The 49ers understand Kittle’s value well and seem ready to pay him. General manager John Lynch has expressed that point earlier this month on the 49ers Insider Podcast.

“George is certainly a priority,” Lynch told NBC Sports Bay Area in early May. “I don’t anticipate -- you never say never -- but George is going to be Niner. We think too highly of him. I think he loves the (environment).

“We got to find the right deal and we’ll continue working towards that. We’re not going to put any timetable on that. But George is certainly is a priority for us. We love everything about him. We love everything he brings to the Niners.”

Finding a proper deal, given everything he does and the market surrounding the position he plays, isn’t straight forward.

“Those are some of the challenges, I think,” Lynch said. “We understand that. And he understands that.

“These things aren’t easy. Oftentimes, they’re complex, but they’re doable. I know there’s motivation on both sides. And so I’m very confident in due time, we’ll get that done.”

Seahawks claim D.J. Reed day after 49ers waived injured defensive back

Seahawks claim D.J. Reed day after 49ers waived injured defensive back

The 49ers took a gamble Tuesday when the club placed defensive back D.J. Reed on waivers.

One day later, the Seattle Seahawks pounced.

The Seahawks claimed Reed off waivers. He goes on the active/non-football injury list due to a torn pectoral sustained during an offseason workout.

General manager John Lynch said this week the decision was made to effectively end Reed’s season with the 49ers because the club anticipated his return no earlier than November. Lynch said the team did not want to devote a roster spot to a player who might not be available to play until December.

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

While Reed currently counts against the Seahawks’ roster, he will open the season on reserve/non-football injury. He will be ineligible for the first six weeks of the season, but could return to contribute later in the season.

Reed, a Bakersfield native who attended college at Kansas, was a fifth-round draft pick of the 49ers in 2018.

He appeared in 31 regular-season games and all three postseason games during his time with the club. He started two games as a rookie and is capable of playing cornerback, nickel back and safety.

[RELATEDMostert explains tough decision to play 2020 NFL season]

After registering 41 tackles and a sack as a rookie, Reed saw limited action last season with 13 tackles. He was one of the team's core special-teams players. Reed scored a touchdown on a 5-yard fumble return on kickoff coverage after a botched lateral on the final play of the 49ers’ 36-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 17.

Reed becomes the fourth former 49ers player on the Seahawks, joining running back Carlos Hyde, guard Mike Iupati and fullback Nick Bellore.

49ers' Raheem Mostert explains tough decision to play 2020 NFL season

49ers' Raheem Mostert explains tough decision to play 2020 NFL season

Raheem Mostert has a secure role on the 49ers.

And he had an adjusted contract to account for the possibility -- if not likelihood -- that he again will be the team’s leading rusher.

Yet, it was not a simple decision for Mostert and his wife, Devon, to go ahead and report to training camp in Santa Clara.

“I’m not going to be opting out, but it was a long, very long, and tough discussion with my wife,” Mostert said Wednesday on a video call with Bay Area media.

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

There have been 54 players around the league who officially have opted out this season over concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Wide receiver Travis Benjamin on Tuesday night became the first player on the 49ers to announce his decision to opt out

Mostert was among the first athletes to take the threat of the coronavirus seriously. He announced on March 4 he was canceling an appearance out of an autograph show in Santa Clara.

Devon and the couple’s 13-month-old son Gunnar remain in Cleveland. The couple is expecting their second child in late-September.

But Mostert finally has built his career to the point where he will be able to provide for his family. It would have been difficult to pass up a season at a time when Mostert is in his prime.

“She understands the importance of me being out here, being able to provide for the family and all those good things,” Mostert said. “We had more positive talks than negative.

“We’ve been able to communicate on a day-to-day basis, just understanding each other’s feelings and make sure she’s at ease, especially during her time with this with the uncertainty of COVID, as well as having the (upcoming) birth of our second boy.”

[RELATED: 49ers need Taylor now more than ever with Benjamin out]

Mostert said he is not certain if he will return to Cleveland to be with his wife early in the football season for the birth of their second child. He and Devon will continue to weigh the pros and cons. But Mostert said coach Kyle Shanahan pledged his full support of whatever the Mosterts decide.

“He told me, ‘Hey, man, we’re always here; whatever you need, we’re going to provide that for you; and we’re going to make sure everything is in your corner,' " Moster said of Shanahan.