49ers: Is George Kittle about to secure a large payday?

49ers, George Kittle (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
49ers, George Kittle (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

San Francisco 49ers’ tight end George Kittle could be cashing in big-time ahead of the upcoming season.

The only thing more dangerous than leaving stud tight end George Kittle open over the middle of the field during an NFL game would be if the San Francisco 49ers let him walk from their facility at the conclusion of the 2020 season.

That’s the reality San Francisco could face in the event the team and its star offensive weapon can’t agree to terms on a long-term extension that would keep Kittle in the red and gold.

The former University of Iowa product is set to approach the final year of his rookie contract in 2020, from which he’s owed just $2.1 million.

Nobody would figure it when Kittle was a fifth-round pick in 2017, but that salary figure is now chump change for a player of his caliber.

An extension appeared inevitable for him since he first broke through in 2018 with his first 1,000-yard receiving season and his first Pro Bowl selection during an otherwise lost campaign for the 49ers.

Kittle followed that up with another 1,000-yard season in 2019, earning his second Pro Bowl berth and his first All-Pro selection on the way to a Super Bowl appearance.

Now, he’s firmly established himself as one of the best at his position.

When it takes a swath of opposing defenders just to make an effort in attempting to bring him down, that’s how you know he’s special.

And it now seems the hulking talent will be rewarded for that innate ability.

According to The Athletic’s Matt Barrows, a source “in the know” reported that George Kittle could net a contract in the neighborhood of $13 million annually.

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49ers’ tight end George Kittle was projected to earn more before the pandemic.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some experts suspected Kittle could have received close to $20 million annually, which would have completely reset the market for dynamic, play-making tight ends.

However, the pandemic has raised the possibility of league-wide losses in revenue in 2020, meaning a reduced salary cap is likely a residual effect to be felt by all 32 franchises in the near future.

So while $13 million may not be $20 million, the former is still a hefty sum for the position.

Consider that the two highest-paid tight ends at the moment, Austin Hooper of the Cleveland Browns and Hunter Henry of the Los Angeles Chargers, both make slightly over $10 million per season.

Kittle would have both of them beat with this reported salary figure, an accomplishment he likely would relish as well as one he clearly deserves.

Of course, the potential salary cap reduction means the 49ers would have to get creative with the structure of Kittle’s deal.

The team has just south of $12 million in cap space remaining for 2020, so a $13 million annual salary would certainly push San Francisco’s finances over the cap.

They’ll have even less to work with in 2021 in the event of a lesser salary threshold, which is why The Athletic’s David Lombardi proposed this measure to alleviate the effects of a Kittle extension:

"“The 49ers can offer Kittle a guaranteed base annual salary or signing bonus before using a percentage-of-the-cap scale on top of that to pay him commensurate to cap increases in future years, when the NFL’s revenue outlook should be rosier.”"

Lombardi cautioned that this was merely an idea, but one the team should definitely consider if it wants to make their star tight end’s contract status a priority while also preserving enough resources to make improvements to the roster in the future.

Should the two sides fail to engage in fruitful negotiations, San Francisco has the last resort option of placing the franchise tag on Kittle for two seasons after his current contract expires.

If history has shown us anything, however, that’s a route both sides should look to avoid in the interest of a long-term extension.

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With George Kittle seeking financial security and the organization recognizing his importance to Kyle Shanahan’s offense, motivation to get a deal done should be aplenty for the two parties.