George Kittle’s potential upcoming contract extension with the 49ers likely will reset the market for tight ends in the NFL.
Kittle’s versatility as a pass-catcher and dynamic run blocker has led his agent to publicly say the 26-year-old deserves a “special” contract -- which implies seeking a salary well above the current highest average annual value for a tight end ($10.6 million, per Spotrac).
When NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund crunched the numbers and put together the top 10 players around the league who most deserve a new contract, she identified four players either equally or more worthy of a new deal.
Tied atop her list with a 10 out of 10 priority rating were star quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, both of whom were selected in the top 15 of the 2017 draft. Mahomes already has an NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP, after taking down Kittle and the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV this past February with the Kansas City Chiefs. Watson has been named to the Pro Bowl each of the past two seasons for the Houston Texans and is one of the league’s most composed signal-callers under pressure, despite being just 24 years old.
Dak Prescott just signed his one-year franchise tag with the Dallas Cowboys, but he comes in third on Frelund’s list. Prescott has had a tremendous supporting cast around him in Dallas comparative to the rest of the league but his powerful arm remains a crucial part of the Cowboys' offense.
Finally, Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook has the same priority ranking as Kittle (7 out of 10) in terms of needing a new contract. Cook has made it clear this offseason that he intends to hold out for an extension, but considering how unwilling most teams are to invest top dollar in that position long-term, a massive extension for Cook in Minnesota doesn’t seem likely. Cook amassed over 1,600 yards from scrimmage last season and was a second-round pick in 2017.
Quarterbacks are more essential to a team’s success offensively than tight ends, there isn’t much argument to be made there. Kittle’s rapid ascension into one of the NFL’s most valuable players definitely makes him more deserving of a huge new contract than Cook, but QB1 is one of the most valuable positions in all of professional sports. If you need proof, check out how much money the 49ers guaranteed Jimmy Garoppolo after he had just seven NFL starts under his belt.
Kittle's value to the 49ers is immense, but a contract closer to $20 million than $10 million could put general manager John Lynch in a tough position when up-and-coming defensive stars like Nick Bosa and Fred Warner come up for extensions in the next few years.
The 49ers have made it clear they plan to take care of Kittle and want him to be a part of the organization for years to come, but such a sizable contract takes some time to sort out in a league with a complicated salary cap system. It would be very surprising if the 49ers start the 2020 season without Kittle being locked up to a new deal.
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