Why George Kittle contract extension might not be most pressing in NFL

Why George Kittle contract extension might not be most pressing in NFL

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.

[RELATED: 49ers had second-most explosive running plays, per Pro Football Focus]

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

Kyle Shanahan already seeing 49ers QB 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."

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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.

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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 Garopppolo 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.

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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.

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