George Kittle

49ers roster analysis: Signing George Kittle to new contract top focus

49ers roster analysis: Signing George Kittle to new contract top focus

This is the fourth installment of a nine-part series that examines the 49ers’ roster coming out of the 2019 season, looks ahead to 2020, and outlines the offseason challenges facing general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan on a position-by-position basis.

Thursday, a look at the 49ers’ tight ends.

Under contract (signed through)

-George Kittle (2020)
-Daniel Helm (2020)

For the first time this offseason, the 49ers and Kittle’s representation can negotiate a multi-year contract extension. After being a fifth-round draft pick in 2017, Kittle has greatly outperformed his contract. He is in line to become the highest-paid tight end in the league at far more than $10 million a season.

Expiring contract

-Levine Toilolo (UFA)
-Ross Dwelley (EFA)
-Garrett Celek (UFA)

Celek, 31, announced his retirement on Feb. 7 after eight NFL seasons. Celek experienced back issues the past couple seasons and underwent surgery in June to repair a herniated disk. He played five games last season before going on injured reserve when his back flared up. He finished his career with 82 receptions for 1,104 yards and 12 touchdowns in 91 games.

Dwelley as an exclusive-rights free agent has no outside negotiating rights and certainly will be back with the 49ers for a third season.

What needs to happen

One thing needs to happen this offseason: The 49ers and Kittle must agree on a multi-year contract extension. It should happen. It has to happen.

It does not make any sense for Kittle to take the risk of stepping on the field again without first receiving a large sum of guaranteed money to reward him for the best three-season opening to a career of any tight end in NFL history.

The 49ers have produced great tight ends in their history. But Kittle is the first to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. And, now, he has done it two seasons in a row. His 1,377 receiving yards in 2018 were the most in a single season by a tight end in NFL history.

How vital is Kittle to the 49ers? His teammates voted him as the winner of the Len Eshmont Award, the team’s most prestigious honor, for his courageous and inspirational play.

Toilolo was the second-most-used tight end on the team late in the season and into the playoffs due to his blocking ability. He could be back on a veteran minimum contract.

[RELATED: 49ers roster analysis: More receiver depth needed around Deebo Samuel]

Expectations

Kittle is the best player on the team. He will continue to be the best player on the team.

Dwelley made a big jump from his rookie season to Year 2. If he can make another big improvement with his blocking, he will position himself to see a bump in playing time. He stepped in and made some big catches while Kittle was out with ankle and knee injuries in the middle of the season. Dwelley had 15 catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns on the season.

Toilolo became the team’s sixth offensive lineman, in effect, as he played 34 snaps combined in the playoff games against Minnesota and Green Bay when the 49ers dominated with their ground game. Toilolo has enough value for the 49ers to re-sign to fill a similar role in 2020.

The 49ers promoted rookie Daniel Helm from the practice squad late in his rookie season. The club originally claimed him off waivers from the Los Angeles Chargers in August. He did not see action in any games, but it was a clear indication the 49ers see something in him that they can develop for the future.

Watch George Kittle wreak havoc in run game during youth football days

Watch George Kittle wreak havoc in run game during youth football days

Watching George Kittle run with the ball is something of beauty -- and he's been doing it for a long time now.

His wife, Claire, posted on her Instagram story some old-school footage of the 49ers' two-time Pro Bowl tight end wreaking havoc during his youth football games:

He was running hard well before he got paid to do it. 

Last season, Kittle had 1,053 receiving yards and five touchdowns as a huge part of the 49ers' run to Super Bowl LIV. 

While the 49ers ultimately fell to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Big Game, Kittle made a promise to ensure he and the rest of the 49ers will be back and will get "vengeance."

[RELATED: Kittle tops PFF's best of 2019]

It's nice to see where it all began. The guy is a freak on the field and we're lucky some of us just get to watch and don't have to keep up. 

George Kittle leads six 49ers ranked in PFF's top 101 players of 2019

George Kittle leads six 49ers ranked in PFF's top 101 players of 2019

George Kittle was voted as the winner of the 49ers’ most-prestigious team award.

He also took home the top league-wide honor from Pro Football Focus as the best overall player from the 2019 season.

Kittle, as PFF describes it, graded out as the best player, regardless of position, in the NFL last season on a snap-by-snap basis. He was among six 49ers whom PFF graded among the top 101 players in the league.

Kittle, who was voted by his 49ers teammates as winner of the Len Eshmont Award, had 1,053 receiving yards and five touchdowns in the regular season.

He averaged 7.3 yards after the catch, most in the league among players with 50 or more receptions, according to PFF. He led all tight ends with 20 broken tackles.

Kittle, who also is an outstanding blocker, had the highest grade PFF has ever given to a tight end. His grade was the best in the entire NFL in 2019. He appears to be in line to become the league's highest-paid tight end this offseason.

Here are the other top 10 players, according to PFF’s grading system:
2. DT Aaron Donald, L.A. Rams
3. QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
4.
QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
5.
G Brandon Brooks, Philadelphia
6. DE T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
7.
QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore
8. WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans
9. T Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans
10. DT Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh

Five other 49ers were ranked among the top 101, according to PFF:

13. CB Richard Sherman
Sherman was not challenged much during the regular season. When teams went his way, they often paid the price. Quarterbacks who tested him had a 45.3 passer rating for the entire season, despite his struggles in the Super Bowl, according to PFF. He gave up just 227 passing yards in the regular season on his way to his fifth Pro Bowl recognition.

28. DE Nick Bosa
Bosa, who placed one spot ahead of his brother, Joey, registered the most pressures PFF ever has recorded by a rookie. PFF has been around since 2006. Bosa only got better in the postseason with 22 pressures in three games, including 12 in the Super Bowl. Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick, won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

30. DE Arik Armstead
Armstead had his breakout season with a team-high 10 sacks during the regular season. He recorded a total of nine sacks in his first four seasons. He had 73 quarterback pressures for the entire year, which is one shy of doubling his previous career high, according to PFF. He also produced a career-best 42 defensive snaps, as he proved to be a force both as a run and pass defender. Armstead is scheduled for unrestricted free agency, but general manager John Lynch said the 49ers’ goal is to keep him around for “a long time.”

54. S Jimmie Ward
Ward never spoke out during his first five NFL seasons. Despite constant position changes, Ward did not complain. He just did his job. This season, the 49ers kept Ward at safety, and he remained healthy. The results showed. Ward did not register an interception, but he broke up eight passes and was a big reason no team surrendered fewer pass plays of 20 yards or more. Ward likely is one of the 49ers’ top priorities to re-sign this offseason as a scheduled unrestricted free agent.

[RELATED: How DeForest Buckner, George Kittle impact 49ers' free agency decisions]

82. DT DeForest Buckner
Buckner is described by PFF as “a player with no real weaknesses.” After the 49ers’ three postseason games, Buckner ended the season with a career-high in quarterback pressures. He registered 7.5 sacks in the regular season and 2.5 more in the postseason. There’s no question what the 49ers coaching staff thinks of Buckner. He was named the winner of the Bill Walsh Award, which is given to the 49er who has best represented the standard of professional excellence established by the Hall of Fame coach.