George Kittle’s contract will shatter the tight end market

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

The 49ers can’t afford to let George Kittle leave in free agency. That means he’s due to get a monster deal from San Francisco.

It takes a special player to reset the market at their position group. George Kittle has that quality. The 49ers will need to pay him big-time money if they want to prevent him from hitting the open market. He’s going to become the highest-paid tight end in football by a wide margin.

Hunter Henry should enjoy being the highest paid tight end in the NFL while it lasts. Receiving the franchise tag from the Chargers will see him earn a shade over $10.6 million this season. That allows him to slightly edge out the $10.5 million Austin Hooper got from the Browns this offseason in free agency.

Kittle, in sharp contrast, is only going to make slightly more than $2.1 million this season in the final year of his rookie contract with the 49ers. To say that he’s due for a massive raise would still be a serious understatement.

Kittle isn’t just going to reset the tight end market. He’s going to shatter the compensation record for his position group. That’s only fitting for a player who transcends his position. Kittle is one of only a handful of NFL tight ends that gives his offense just as much value as a Pro Bowl wide receiver can. The 49ers offense depends on his ability to make big plays down the field to set up almost everything else they do in the passing game.

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It’s easy for Kittle and his representatives to make the case that he’s worth more than the league’s highest-paid wide receiver.

Amari Cooper is important to the Cowboys, but Kittle is every bit as vital to the 49ers’ Super Bowl hopes. For reference, Cooper just got a deal that will pay him $20 million annual in free agency.

Unfortunately for Kittle, he lacks the leverage to get to that number. The 49ers know they can use the franchise tag up to three times to pay him less than what he would earn on the open market. That’s not neccessarily what the team wants to do, but it’s their ace in the hole if negotiations go south.

San Francisco officials know they can’t afford to make Kittle mad though. That’s why they still will likely make him a long-term contract offer north of what he would earn via the franchise tag. Keeping a star player happy is sometimes more important than saving a few million dollars.

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Look for Kittle to break the tight end compensation record by at least $2 million per season when he finally inks an extension with the 49ers. That might not be what Kittle’s contributions to the 49ers are actually worth, but it will represent a new standard for what elite tight ends can earn in the modern NFL.