On Friday, some NFL contract news hit the cycle when reports emerged that the San Francisco 49ers and George Kittle were not particularly close on a contract extension. Kittle is entering the final year of his rookie deal and is set to make merely $2.1 million this season, a bargain for one of the league's top tight ends. His agent told NFL Network's Mike Silver that he was looking to strike a deal separate from the tight end market with Kittle's next contract.
What exactly does that mean? Well, it means he'll want a lot more money than any other tight end in the league right now, at the very least. Hunter Henry has the highest annual salary at $10.6 million after getting franchise-tagged by the Los Angeles Chargers. Austin Hooper clocks in next at $10.5 million a year in the form of a $42 million agreement with the Cleveland Browns. Travis Kelce, one of Kittle's few equals at the position, makes $9.4 million a year. Kittle will want more than $10 million per season in his new deal, but how much higher he'll want to go will be the deciding factor.
Kittle caught 85 passes last year and is a force in the run game, extremely valuable to what Kyle Shanahan is doing with their offense. As far as the Niners are concerned, he's as close to irreplaceable as any other player on their roster. Will Kittle be able to wrangle top-flight wide receiver money from them? Considering that would be in the range of about $18-22 million a year, that seems unlikely. That's big money for a tight end.
It's more realistic Kittle ends up in the $12-15 million range. Rob Gronkowski's contract will be a good starting point in terms of total value and guarantees; Gronk signed a $54 million deal with the Patriots, good for $18 million guaranteed. Should Kittle sign a four-year worth $60 million with $25 million guaranteed, both sides would be reasonably happy with it.
Kittle is a top-flight tight end in the league and deserves that kind of money. Game-changers get paid as such. But San Francisco and his agent might be in for a protracted negotiation period if Kittle is stuck on getting paid like Michael Thomas or DeAndre Hopkins.