After a few months of negotiations, the inevitable conclusion came between George Kittle and the San Francisco 49ers. The two sides reached an agreement on a contract extension for Kittle that will give him the highest annual salary out of all tight ends in the league. Ian Rapoport reports the deal will be worth $75 million over five years with $18 million up front.
This is exactly the type of deal I posited might be possible back in May when word first leaked Kittle wanted an extension. He was never going to get top-flight WR money, even if he's nearly as prolific as guys in that pay tier, but he wasn't going to settle for a marginal raise over Austin Hooper's $10 million per year deal. And man, did Kittle earn this.
He's the best tight end in the league. I don't think anyone can argue that. Travis Kelce might be a better pure receiver and Rob Gronkowski's name now must be taken into consideration after unretiring to become Tom Brady's Florida Man sidekick, but Kittle still holds the crown until anyone proves otherwise. He's a bulldozer as a blocker and takes immense pleasure in planting defenders in the turf. His skills in that area contributed significantly to the Niners' potent running attack that got them to the Super Bowl.
As a receiver, Kittle is the closest anyone has come to Gronkowski that we've seen this decade. He turns into a freight train with the ball in his hands and literally carried defenders on his back for an extra half-dozen yards on several occasions just last season. He had the third-most receiving yards by a tight end in 2019 with 1,053. Kittle may not have the counting stats that someone like Kelce does, but his impact on the field in that area is abundantly clear to anyone who watches.
The deal seems just right for both sides. While it's worth wondering why Kittle's salary is still less than Sammy Watkins or Brandin Cooks on a per-year basis, he probably wasn't going to get much more out of San Francisco. It's a market-setting deal regardless for tight ends. The Niners obviously love Kittle and he wanted to stick around. A natural marriage and a contract that rewards Kittle's play, but doesn't hamstring his team's cap situation. A win-win if there ever was one.